- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2009

On April 8, I attended an event at the National Press Club where about 40 doctors, medical students, nurses and lab techs faced the TV cameras.

They gathered to advocate for the “conscience” protections for health professionals that the Obama administration intends to dismantle. Eliminating these protections will drive pro-life doctors out of the profession, they said.

A poll by Kellyanne Conway’s The Polling Co. Inc./WomanTrend found that 82 percent of 2,865 Christian medical personnel said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to limit the scope of their medical practice if they had to perform actions against their pro-life beliefs.

Moreover, 39 percent said they already had experienced discrimination because of their beliefs. For example, one doctor said that during her medical residency, she refused to assist in a late-term abortion of a Down syndrome child and was loudly and thoroughly berated in front of her colleagues by the attending physician.

I asked some medical students at the press conference about their experiences.

Julia Jenkins, 24, a second-year Catholic med student, spelled out her pro-life beliefs in her application process and still was accepted at five schools, including Georgetown University Medical School. She is now co-chair of Georgetown Medical Students for Life.

“I know students at other med schools feel looked down upon for their views,” she told me. “I feel lucky to be here” at Georgetown, where there are no abortions.

Ms. Jenkins said she knows of no national support group for students like her, while the 10,000-member Medical Students for Choice (MSC) is “well-funded and they pay for students to go to conferences.”

I later found the Holland, Mich.-based American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) on the Web. The group, which claims 2,500 members, advises OB-GYN residents that they have a legal right not to participate in abortions as part of their training programs.

But a 20-something fourth-year evangelical Christian student at a local medical school — who asked that her name and school not be identified — said AAPLOG hasn’t responded to her e-mails.

When she was assigned to assist in a procedure known as a D&C, which can be performed after a miscarriage or as part of an abortion, she balked when a supervisor refused to tell her whether it involved killing a live child.

“When I said I did not want to be part of evacuating fetuses with beating hearts, I was severely chastised by the head resident,” she said. “I am going to go into gynecology to preserve the life of a mother and her child. I cannot distinguish between whether the child is wanted or not.”

This student doesn’t feel that people like her should be relegated to sympathetic Catholic, Baptist or Adventist hospitals. She agonizes over whether to bring up the topic when she applies for a residency because, in most instances, “to inform them of my position would be quite detrimental to me.

I also talked with 29-year-old Zach Schaftel, a second-year medical student at George Washington University and an evangelical Protestant. He is trying to decide whether to go into general surgery or obstetrics.

“I’m not sure I want to go into it,” he said of obstetrics. “I do not want to go through my residency having to wake up every morning wondering if I will have to go head to head with other physicians on this.”

He thinks most of his classmates would perform an abortion, and so far, “even the people who disagree with me strongly as to whether abortion is a woman’s inalienable right have been civil and courteous.”

Being pro-life “is not an opinion I can have with no consequences.”

Julia Duin’s column Stairway to Heaven runs on Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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