Courts hear conscience arguments of pro-life health-care staffers

By WND Staff

A “conscience rights” rule implemented by the Trump administration that exempts physicians from providing “treatments” that violate religious faith such as abortion has been challenged by lawsuits in New York and California.

CNBC reported the city of San Francisco sued after alleging people could be deprived of health care treatments such as “assisted suicide” because of someone else’s beliefs.

The lawsuits contend that a right to access to health care trumps the First Amendment’s constitutional protections for freedom of religion.

Now the lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom are fighting back with friend-of-the-court briefs in the California and New York cases.

They are supporting the cases of four non-profit medical groups that back the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The briefs are on behalf of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association.

“Medical professionals should never have to sacrifice the core convictions that led them to enter medicine, in order to serve in that very field,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle. “That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm.

“That freedom must not be sacrificed in the name of business interests, political goals, or the convenience of others. The Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule is constitutionally sound and consistent with related federal laws.”

The filings confirm that Congress repeatedly has adopted laws that demonstrate bipartisan intent that “health care professionals not be coerced into violating their beliefs,” ADF said.

But states often have shown “disregard for protecting freedom of conscience for medical practitioners.”

Pharmacists have been forced to dispense abortion-causing drugs and physicians have been forced to attend abortions because they were not protected by a conscience rule, ADF said.

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life.

“The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection. This commonsense rule simply ensures longstanding federal conscience laws are enforced so that no American is forced to choose between violating their beliefs and serving those most in need.”

The briefs charge: “Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. Plaintiffs’ argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected – beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment. Individual conscience rights are paramount, regardless of a person’s job title or role. Decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.”

The briefs say the rule “is a straightforward application of the basic conscience rights that have been secured since the inception of hits nation.”

“The American Republic was established to be a refuge for conscience; as Samuel Adams put it, ‘freedom of thought and the right of private judgment in matters of conscience direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum.'”

It was Thomas Jefferson who included liberty of conscience as a cornerstone of the Constitution, the briefs explain.

He wrote, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the decisions that created a “right” to abortion, specifically allowed that people with conscience objections must not be coerced to participate.

They have, the justices said in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, “the right to refrain, for moral or religious reasons, from participating in the abortion procedure.”


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