Is This Really What Jesus Would Do?

doctors and religious objection

The administration presided over by our thrice-married, p***y-grabbing, porn-star-fornicating President has announced its latest effort to protect religiosity.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom…. The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

The “religious freedom” being protected by the new division and rules is the freedom of medical practitioners to deny medical care if providing that care would be “inconsistent” with their religious beliefs.  (Did the Good Samaritan check the sexual orientation of the injured man he helped? I forgot that part of the story…)

The Administration is clearly unconcerned with the religious beliefs or health needs of women who need reproductive services like birth control. The new rules allow almost anyone who works in the health field to refuse to provide a wide array of services; adding insult to injury, there is no requirement that religiously objecting doctors refer patients elsewhere.

Planned Parenthood warns that the rule could allow a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for birth control, doctors to deny hormone therapy to transgender patients, and  pediatricians to refuse to treat the child of gay parents.

An Atlantic article looked at the implications.

There are already federal laws that protect medical personnel from being required to provide abortions. In addition, nearly every state also allows health-care providers to refuse to perform abortions, and 12 states allow them to refuse to provide contraceptives. In six states, even pharmacists are allowed to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions.

According to reproductive-rights groups, the problem is these laws often mean patients who are denied services aren’t then referred to a doctor who will provide the care. According to one poll, only 57 percent of doctors nationally believe objecting physicians must refer patients to an accommodating provider. “Only in a couple of states are patients given information and referrals,” says Elizabeth Nash of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

Given the language of the new regulation, the “protection” could be extensive.

“Under the new rule, you could have translators who refuse to translate for a woman undergoing tubal ligation,” says Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Those crafting the new rules explain that requiring objecting physicians to refer patients to willing providers would also violate their tender religious consciences.

The proposed rule defines “referral” as providing “any information,” including a phone number or website on a pamphlet, about a health service that the provider disagrees with.

The Administration’s uber-solicitous concern for the religious sensibilities of providers is certainly not matched by any concern for patients, whose rights are far more likely to be violated even under current law.

In 2015, a lesbian couple in Michigan had a pediatrician decline to care for their six-day-old infant, Bay, because, as the doctor later explained to the couple, “after much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients.”

Another case, also in Michigan, involved Tamesha Means, a woman who was rushed to her county’s Catholic hospital when her water broke at 18 weeks into her pregnancy. “Based on the bishops’ religious directives, the hospital sent her home twice even though Tamesha was in excruciating pain,” as the ACLU put it. The hospital staff did not tell her that she could, and probably should, end the pregnancy, according to the ACLU’s summary. Ultimately, Means returned to the hospital a third time, this time with an infection, and miscarried.

Critics of this new level of regulation point out that it is transparent political pandering; unlike the numerous cases where patients have been endangered, instances where providers have been discriminated against are vanishingly rare. As the article concluded,

“They’re setting up this office and using a lot of taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Fogel says. “Health systems are already pretty good at accommodating people who have a genuine objection to participating in a service.”

Swartz agrees, saying the problem of conscientiously objecting physicians “is like voter fraud. Those instances are one in a million.”

Rare though they might be, these cases will now merit special attention by the U.S. government.

Perhaps this new division is protecting “Christian” doctors in return for that “mulligan” Evangelicals gave Trump…

 

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on January 26, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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