The Engage Family Blog

Official Blog of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia

DHHS: Should a Physician’s Conscience be Penalized?

with 5 comments

At this point in our nation’s history, it is axiomatic to say that we enjoy a freedom of religion. Yet, at times one wonders just how far that freedom reaches. When abortion “rights” meet rights of conscience, who wins?

The answer to that question (aside from that fact that one is found explicitly within our Constitution and the other only within the “penumbras” surrounding it) is precisely what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt is trying to figure out. Today is the last day for the public to comment on proposed regulations by HHS that would extend the constitutionally guaranteed rights of conscience to physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers. The proposed regulations would require recipients of Federal dollars to certify that they are compliant with Federal laws protecting the rights of conscience for pro-life medical professionals.

The regulation is not nearly as monumental as it may seem. It is, in fact, simply an enforcement of at least three (3) laws requiring as much of recipients of Federal dollars. Reports, “The Center Blog,” the blog for the Center for Law and Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society:

For over three decades the Church Amendment has prohibited recipients of HHS funding from compelling employees to participate in activities that violate their conscience. Two other federal statutes, the Coats-Snowe Amendment to the Public Health Services Act, enacted in 1996, and the Weldon Amendment, an appropriations rider first enacted in 2004, prohibit federal and state governments and other recipients of certain federal funds from discriminating against medical professionals who do not perform or refer for abortions.

Interestingly, as HHS even admits, that this has been the law now for 38 years, pro-life medical professionals and students remain uniformed by their own ethics panels:

[M]any in the health care industry, and members of the general public, are unaware of these provider conscience rights. For example, an ethics opinion put forth several months ago by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists appeared to disregard these laws. Subsequent action by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which appeared to adopt the opinion, had the potential to force physicians to either violate their conscience by referring patients for abortions (or taking other objectionable actions) or risk losing their board certification. This case and others illustrate the need for the proposed rule to increase awareness of, and compliance with, the three statutes protecting provider conscience rights.

While the adoption of the proposed regulations would not end the practice of abortion-on-demand in the United States (or even West Virginia), it would certainly curtail them. Perhaps as important, it would provide pro-life medical professionals the rights due them under both the U.S. Constitution and Federal law. Christians (or persons of any faith) ought never be penalized, or risk discrimination, for doing nothing more than abiding by their religious beliefs – their conscience. As it stands now, medical professionals face a choice, to quote HHS, “either violate their conscience . . . or risk losing their board certification.”

But here’s the best part: you can add your voice to that more than 1,100 comments made to this proposal thus far. All you need to do is send an email to Be sure to include “provider conscience regulation” in the subject line and specify that you support the proposed regulation. As The Center Blog suggests, there are a few points you may wish to make:

The Department should enforce existing conscience protections, passed with bipartisan support and on the books for as long as three decades.

Discrimination against pro-life medical professionals does not expand access to abortion. It drives a critical segment of the medical workforce from the profession, diminishing access to medical care and increasing costs.

Urge the Secretary to interpret the existing regulations to explicitly protect medical professionals from being forced to dispense or refer for chemical abortifacients like RU-486 and “Plan B.”

As for us, you may read the comments we submitted yesterday below. In addition, today we will send a copy of that letter to Martha Yeager Walker, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, urging her to follow the HHS’s lead and require recipients of state dollars to certify that the rights of conscience are being extended to all medical professionals in West Virginia.

Our comments to the US DHHS in support of the “Provider Conscience Regulation:”

Office of Public Safety and Health, DHHS
Attention: Brenda Destro, Hubert Humphrey Building
200 Independence Ave., S.W. Room 728E
Washington, D.C. 20201

RE: Provider Conscience Regulation

September 24, 2008

Ms. Destro,

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia urges the Department of Health and Human Services to protect an individual’s right of conscience by adopting the proposed “provider conscience regulations.”

Healthcare providers and practitioners (including pharmacists) should not be penalized or risk discrimination for doing nothing more than abiding by their beliefs. Neither the government nor an employer should make people choose between their faith and their job.

Respecting rights of conscience will not stop anyone from getting their medication or access to healthcare (as the proposed regulations state). Government, through Federal funding, ought never impose a disagreeable ideology upon anyone. Respecting the rights of conscience within the medical community – especially when reasonable accommodation is available – is common sense.

Healthcare is not a commodity, but a service. Those in the field are serious professionals trained to provide specialized care. Conscience is subjective, but not relative, and is defined by the individual through his or her religious faith, morality, or ethics. Conscience cannot be ignored or compartmentalized. Moreover, freedom of conscience is an American ideal. It reflects the freedom from coercion (by government or individual) to act against one’s will. Conscience acts as a check and balance in a healthcare provider’s decision-making process.

Compelling healthcare professionals to violate their consciences is contrary to the freedoms that Americans have always enjoyed. Such freedoms ought to be roundly protected by their government, no matter the person’s political or religious stripe.

Thus, we petition our government to uphold the rights of conscience for healthcare providers by adopting the “provider conscience regulations.”


Jeremiah G. Dys, Esq.,
President and General Counsel.

UPDATE: This afternoon, the following letter was sent to Secretary Martha Yeager Walker of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, urging the adoption of similar regulations in WV:

Secretary Martha Yeager Walker
West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources
State Capitol Complex, Building 3 Room 206
Charleston, West Virginia 25305

September 25, 2008

RE: Provider Conscience Regulations

Sec’y. Walker:

Today, the period for public comments closes on the United State Department of Health and Human Services’s proposed rule, “ensuring the Department of Health and Human Services Funds do not support coercive or discriminatory policies or practices in violation of Federal law.” A copy of that proposed rule, and DHHS’s news release concerning it, is enclosed.

Yesterday, on behalf of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, I submitted the enclosed letter via email to Sec’y. Leavitt’s staff, urging the adoption of the proposed regulations. I now ask you to consider opening for public comment rules to similar effect to protect the rights of conscience for medical professionals in West Virginia.

Medical professionals should not be presented with the false choice between violating conscience or risking the loss of board certification. Professionals of faith should never be penalized for doing nothing more than abiding by their religious beliefs.

The regulations your department may adopt will have no impact upon the continuation of care or provision of medication, but would enforce what has been unenforced Federal law for nearly thirty-eight (38) years. More than that, it would uphold the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for healthcare providers in West Virginia.

To assist in the rulemaking process, I am prepared to personally present testimony and/or deliver to you and your staff suggested rules, testimony from medical professionals, and/or examples from around the state and nation that make the case for such action by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Should those services prove helpful, you and/or your staff are welcome to contact me directly.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this important matter.


Jeremiah G. Dys, Esq.,
President and General Counsel.


Written by Jeremy Dys

September 25, 2008 at 1:46 pm

5 Responses

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  1. […] Voice, the blog of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia has this post that […]

  2. Very interesting article , even and did not think what is a possible read off such pleasure , thank you author


    September 27, 2008 at 7:40 am

  3. thank you for very interesting article , want good luck


    September 29, 2008 at 8:19 pm

  4. […] by Administrator on November 20, 2008 On September 24, we reported about the US DHHS’ proposed rule that would promote the freedom of conscience among […]

  5. […] by Jeremy Dys on January 28, 2009 As reported in September and November, the now former secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services Michael […]

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