Conscience protection for pharmacists, nurses, and…abortionists?

A weird distraction.

Fortunately for pro-lifers, there have been recent victories to celebrate, as the consciences of two pharmacists in Illinois and nurses at an undisclosed hospital in the western part of the United States will now be protected.

An opinion of the case to do with pharmacists and pharmacies in Illinois was filed by the Becket Fund on September 20, a case that ended in victory over seven years after litigation involving then-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s April 2005 mandate forcing all pharmacists and pharmacies to sell Plan B, even if it was against their religious beliefs.

LifeNews.com reported on the outcome of the case:

In 2011, the trial court entered an injunction against the rule.  The court found that there was no evidence that a religious objection had ever prevented anyone from getting the drugs.  The court further found that the law was not neutral because it was designed to target religious objectors, and because it allowed pharmacies to refuse to sell drugs for a host of “common sense business reasons” but not for religious reasons.

In affirming the injunction, the court of appeals yesterday noted that Illinois law “prohibits discrimination in licensing” against a person or business who cannot provide healthcare services because of a religious objection.  Accordingly, the court prohibited the state from enforcing the mandate against the plaintiffs.

William Saunders and Mailee Smith, of Americans United for Life, which filed amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs, also wrote an article further analyzing the case and the court’s decision.

LifeNews.com also reported on the case of the nurses at the undisclosed hospital, who had been told that if they objected to assisting with performing abortions, that they would be permanently transferred out of the Labor & Delivery Unit. The bulk of the article is a letter from the The American Center for Law and Justice, who represented the nurses.

The above cases are certainly victories for the pro-life movement. Pharmacists and nurses are part of professions typically associated with saving life rather than taking it away. And those in such professions can be true to their consciences while remaining in the profession they love and excel in, and without fear of being targeted for their religious or moral beliefs. Such victories may also serve as precedents for future cases. With abortion legal in this country and the abortion industry and its political allies ensuring to keep it that way, the consciences of those who are against abortion are more often what comes under attack.

Which is why a Perspective piece from Lisa H. Harris, M.D., Ph.D., titled “Recognizing Conscience in Abortion Provision,” published in the September 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is a bit puzzling. Denise J. Hunnell, M.D. had a similar reaction, and she had her own piece on the matter published on CNSNews.com and on HLI America’s Truth & Charity Forum. The piece is titled “Conscience Protection – For Abortion Providers?”

The bulk of Dr. Hunnell’s argument is one very much worth stating; for some reason, Dr. Harris doesn’t seem to consider it. Just because a procedure is legal does not mean that it is right. It does not mean that such a procedure has to be accepted by everyone. To draw from Dr. Hunnell’s own words in her thought-provoking article:

The truth is that Dr. Harris is confusing the legal concept of conscience protection with societal and cultural respect and acceptance. The stigmatization of abortion providers is not the result of legal conscience protection for abortion opponents. Rather, it is the very nature of abortion that draws condemnation.

Dr. Harris’s piece does begin by mentioning the Church amendment from 1973, which states that a health care worker cannot be forced to assist with an abortion procedure against “his religious beliefs or moral convictions.” She fails, however, to mention the pharmacists and nurses in particular, like the ones in Illinois and the ones in the western United States, who are being negatively affected and targeted for these religious beliefs and moral convictions. Abortion providers are currently free to perform abortions, be it for reasons of conscience, religion, or merely profit. There have been more restrictions on abortion as of late, but for good reason. And none of these laws changes the fact that abortion remains legal in this country.

Again, to mention Dr. Hunnell’s opinion on the piece, this time with her concluding remarks:

As long as abortion is legal, Dr. Harris and other abortionists are sadly free to ply their trade within the scope of the law. Be aware, however, that a great many acts are legal yet immoral. A declaration that abortionists feel compelled by their consciences to kill defenseless human beings in the womb will do nothing to remove the stigma of their gruesome occupation. Rather, it will only highlight how malformed their consciences must be for them to desire the deaths of innocent children and the ill effects of abortion on mothers.

Dr. Harris’s piece may include compelling bits of information and arguments, and her piece is well worth reading, be it to learn from, agree with, or refute. But according to Dr. Hunnell – and to me, for that matter – Dr. Harris is confused when it comes to conscience protection. Abortion may be immoral and wrong, but it is nevertheless legal, and abortionists and their actions are protected. Thus, the real focus should be on protecting those who truly need conscience protection.

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