Cover Story

Compulsory 'choice'

"Compulsory 'choice'" Continued...

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

Four nurses and a nurse manager immediately resigned. But Ms. Diaz, who was four months pregnant and responsible for earning half her family's income, instead waited for a promised transfer to a different position-a transfer that never came. Then in June 1999, a reporter called Ms. Diaz to ask about the clinic fracas, and quoted her in a weekend Riverside Press-Enterprise story. The following week, Ms. Diaz was fired.

With the help of the ACLJ, she filed a civil suit against Riverside County. Judges normally adjudicate such cases, but Ms. Diaz requested and was granted a jury trial. In May 2002, an eight-person jury concluded that the county had abridged her rights of free speech and religious freedom, and awarded her $47,000 in back pay and damages.

The verdict taught ACLJ attorney Frank Manion a lesson. "When you can get past judges to the regular people, you find not only that they are more pro-life than we've been led to believe, but that they also understand that someone like Michelle has a fundamental right to have her conscience respected."

In their attempt to elevate the "right" to kill unborn children over health-care providers' rights of conscience, groups such as the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Rights Action League play a rhetorical shell game. "Abortion" becomes "women's health"; objectors to abortion become "religious fanatics" who are trampling on women's "civil rights," and "denying women access to comprehensive health care." The linguistic bait-and-switch has been particularly effective in forcing health-care institutions to violate the moral principles upon which they were founded.

Brigham Young University's Lynn Wardle cited what he calls the abortion lobby's "containment policy" toward Roman Catholic hospitals and other health-care institutions with a pro-life ethic. Here's how it works: When such organizations bid to take over failing hospitals and medical facilities, pro-abortion activists furiously rattle cages at regulatory agencies charged with approving and licensing such takeovers. Their argument is that the expansion of zero-abortion medical facilities will reduce women's "access to comprehensive health care."

The tactic often works. In Connecticut, for example, officials denied a "certificate of need" to a proposed outpatient surgical center because it refused to perform abortions. In St. Petersburg, officials forced a private Florida hospital to bow out of a nonprofit consortium because the consortium opposed abortion.

Sometimes such fights spill into the courts, where judges often narrowly interpret conscience laws, Mr. Wardle said. The Alaska Supreme Court, for instance, forced the Valley Hospital Association (VHA), a nonsectarian, private organization located in Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley, to provide surgical abortions even though the group had expressed moral objections to the procedure. Unbidden-and perhaps as a message to Roman Catholic hospitals operating in the area-the judge in the case wrote in his ruling that if VHA had been a religious organization, he would have ruled the same way.

About one in five state conscience laws that protect individuals excludes institutions, according to Mr. Wardle, creating a legal end-around that he calls "an indirect way of denying the conscience and morality of the individuals whose choices the entities were created to effectuate."

In response to the assault on health-care freedom of conscience, the ethics commission of the 15,000-member Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) has drafted a right-of-conscience statement. Though the statement has not yet been formally adopted, its basic tenets acknowledge the conscience rights of patients, providers, and institutions, and also places all health-care decisions in proper biblical perspective: "Christian dentists and physicians in our society give dual service to a Holy God and the humanity He created and sustains ... ," the proposed statement reads. "The Christian caregiver's conscience should be informed by the facts and reasons provided by science, but it should be governed by the facts and reasons of God's revelation. For the Christian, obedience to conscience is obligatory."

CMDA's statement also addresses the right-of-conscience challenges faced by medical schools. While standard OB-GYN instruction includes training in emptying the uterus of miscarried pregnancies-essentially the same procedures as aborting live babies-abortion backers charge that women's "access" to abortion is declining as fewer medical schools teach abortion per se. In response, health-care officials in New York City last year made abortion training mandatory for OB-GYN residents in the city's public hospital system. Although the requirement includes a conscience clause, Mr. Manion said pro-life residents there ought to beware of "subtle discrimination. When a city goes out of its way to announce that they're making abortion training mandatory, I would be very concerned if I were a pro-life resident there."

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