- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

President Obama's campaign promise to dismantle new conscience protections for health care professionals could let governments and medical institutions threaten the careers of pro-lifers who refuse involvement with abortion and contraception issues, a pro-life medical coalition said yesterday.

About 40 doctors, medical students, nurses and lab technicians - all dressed in white lab coats - lined up at the National Press Club on Wednesday to dramatize their opposition to rescinding the extra protections put into place last December by President Bush.

“In some states, pharmacists must dispense certain medications or lose their licenses,” said Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the 15,000-member Christian Medical and Dental Associations, which is a pro-life organization. “Students are denied admission to medical schools or residency programs because they are not in favor of abortion. Doctors and nurses are losing their job or a promotion because of their beliefs.”

Dr. Stevens added that 23 percent of association members report job discrimination because of their beliefs and that “many” are not entering the obstetrics field for fear they will be forced to perform abortions.

In a worst-case scenario drawn by Dr. Stevens - pro-lifers and churches abandoning the medical field entirely - up to one-third of the nation's hospitals could close and “hundreds of thousands” of people could leave their jobs.

His figure of one-third of America's hospitals includes the nation's 615 Roman Catholic hospitals (about one-sixth of the national figure) plus a variety of medical centers operated by conservative Protestant groups. Some Catholic bishops have hinted at closing their hospitals rather than comply with government mandates on abortion and contraception they deem morally unacceptable.

He also figured in hospitals having to close from resulting staff shortages if pro-lifers refuse to enter the medical profession.

The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association backs rescinding the Bush rule, saying it also gives immunity to health care workers who refuse to supply contraception because of their religious beliefs.

“Any time you are getting between Americans and access to health care, that is a problem,” said Robin Summers, chief operating officer of NFPRHA. Poor and uninsured women who go to clinics or hospitals that could be deprived of federal funding are most at risk, she added.

”These [Bush] regulations are written so broadly, they could encompass contraception,” she said.

Dr. Stevens said the American marketplace provides plenty of options to end a pregnancy.

“It's ridiculous to say you can't find an abortionist in this country,” he said. “Open the Yellow Pages. But abortionists want us to participate [in the act] with them.”

Dr. Sandy Christiansen, medical director of the Care Net Pregnancy Center in Frederick, Md., said she was “unprepared for the intolerance and discrimination I would face because of my Christian convictions” during her residency training, when she refused to help abort a Down syndrome child. “Thirty-five years of existing laws are not enough to protect health care providers' right to practice according to their conscience.”

Although federal law has since the 1970s forbidden institutions to discriminate against people who refuse to perform or refer abortions, the Bush administration proposed additional protections last year. The current laws were not sufficient, according to a telephone conference call then-Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt held with reporters in August.

HHS listed a variety of groups - ranging from health insurance companies that refuse to provide abortion coverage to doctors who refuse to be trained in the procedure - that need additional protection. The department suggested a new rule saying no one receiving federal funds can discriminate against employees who refuse to be complicit in any way with abortion.

On March 10, the Obama administration moved to rescind the rule, allowing for a 30-day comment period that ends at midnight Thursday.

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