This column originally appeared on Human Events on March 12, 2009.
Barack Obama’s administration has taken an extreme position on coercing doctors to participate in performing abortions even if those doctors are religiously-opposed to abortion. If this new policy becomes law, it would violate medical professionals’ right to act in accordance with their conscience and violate a doctor’s oath to do no harm. Should President Obama force this regulation through, the Supreme Court should strike it down.
For years, it’s been accepted within the healthcare field that people who are morally opposed to abortion cannot be compelled to participate in performing one. This understanding has been put into law in several federal statutes, often referred to as the Conscience Clause. The Bush administration further codified this longstanding concept in a federal regulation.
But now the White House has announced that the Obama administration is beginning the process to repeal this regulation. Should the regulation vanish, the statutory protections could easily fall as well, thus destroying the Conscience Clause that currently protects doctors and other healthcare providers from being forced to participate in abortion.
No social issue in the past century has become as politically-charged as abortion. The Supreme Court plunged into this controversial area in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade. Each time the issue has returned to the Supreme Court, such as in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 or the partial-birth abortion cases in 2000 and 2007, passions on both sides become further inflamed. Millions hold deeply-held beliefs on abortion, often religious in nature.
This nation has an honored history of respecting every persons sincerely-held beliefs, whether or not they are rooted in a particular religious faith. We hold that the right of conscience is essential to a free people.
We see this elsewhere. The federal government has no more solemn obligation than national security. The most important function the president has is as commander-in-chief of the military, and the Constitution allows for the federal government to assert extraordinary power to safeguard American lives.
Even so, no person can be required to take up a weapon in military service if they are morally opposed to taking human life. Even in times of all-out war when millions of Americans were being drafted to fight for our countrys survival, no one was ever forced to shoot at another human being if their conscience forbade it. While such conscientious objectors could still be drafted into military service, they were assigned duties that did not involve combat action against the enemy.
Surely doctors and other healthcare workers deserve that same protection. If our nation can thrive without forcing those who oppose taking life from ending the lives of even our enemies, then we must not force participation in abortion upon those who believe that abortion destroys an innocent human life.
Every doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath, the ancient version of which includes a solemn vow in which doctors promise that they will “never do harm to anyone.” Modern versions of the Oath have a similar provision. This provision is sometimes summed up simply as, “I will do no harm.”
For those questioning if the unborn are included in this language, the original Oath also included, “I will not give a woman a [device] to cause an abortion.” To be fair, abortion was far different in the ancient world and usually posed a grave risk to the womans life. Even so, modern versions of the Hippocratic Oath continue to include a similar provision.
While some doctors are willing to perform abortions, many others are not. Their conscience, expressed in their oath as doctors, should be treated as inviolable by the government.
Freedom of conscience means nothing if the government can compel a person to violate deeply-held beliefs. On the issue of abortion, the fact that so many of those beliefs are based on religious convictions calls for even greater constitutional protection. Should Obama follow through with his threat to repeal this protection, the courts must act.
In so doing, they will protect every American’s right to be true to their conscience, and vindicate every doctors oath that they took on their graduation from medical school, when they raised their right hand and swore on all they hold sacred, “I will do no harm.”