WASHINGTON - A trend in recent years is forcing medical professionals to participate in procedures they are opposed to for moral reasons. The most well-known of these procedures is abortion. Another one on the rise involves gender reassignment.
Conscience protections are supposed to prevent doctors and nurses from being forced to take part in such procedures.
"Right of conscience is the freedom to practice health care in accordance with your deeply-held religious, moral or ethical convictions," explained Dr. David Stevens, CEO emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA).
The Trump administration is executing new regulations to implement and enforce some 25 conscience laws. But those efforts are opposed by those who believe medical professionals should perform whatever procedures their patients need or want.
Most Americans Want Their Doctors & Nurses' Conscience Protected
New polling by Heart + Mind Strategies about this split shows what side the public and medical professionals themselves take.
83 percent of the public says doctors and nurses shouldn't be forced to perform procedures they object to morally. The study also revealed 85 percent of women hold this view.
"We also saw strong agreement across party affiliations: 93 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents and 76 percent of libertarians," said Greg Schleppenbach of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which co-sponsored the survey.
- 58 percent of those surveyed say medical professionals shouldn't be legally required to perform abortions
- 62 percent of women say the same
- Just 20 percent of those polled say doctors and nurses should be forced to perform abortions
91% of Christian Medical Professionals Would Walk Away for Good
Another recent poll by Heart + Mind Strategies surveyed faith-based health professionals. 91 percent said they'd have to quit the medical field if forced to violate their conscience.
"As we talk to our members, this is the most important issue to them. And they realize if we lose this battle, they no longer will be practicing medicine," Stevens noted.
This poll lays to rest the claim by some that if medical professionals are allowed to claim conscience protection, it will mean they will refuse to serve certain types of people.
The survey shows 97 percent of faith-based health professionals insist they'll care for patients in need no matter their sexual orientation or gender identification or in a same-sex marriage.
23% Faced Discrimination, 42% Know Someone Who Has
But when it comes to discrimination against them, 60 percent of these doctors and nurses say it's common for those in their field to face discrimination for refusing to take part in medical procedures they object to morally.
23 percent say they themselves have been discriminated against. 42 percent say they know someone who's faced such discrimination.
"We've all heard about the Vermont case where a nurse was forced to assist in an abortion," Stevens explained. "One of our members in San Antonio, her husband is one of my staff, and she lost a job at university because she wouldn't prescribe an abortifacient birth control pill. In Vermont, we had to sue the state because they were going to require referrals for physician-assisted suicide."
Stevens spoke of another woman, saying, "She was a nurse-practitioner, a mid-wife, who went to apply to a federally-qualified clinic in Florida. And when they saw she was a member of the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, they denied her the job and told her it was because she didn't do abortions, even though that was a small percentage of what they did."
Fights Over Conscience Go to Court
Nick Reaves of the religious rights defense group Becket, pointed out there are very real legal battles going on over conscience protections for medical professionals.
One such case is New York v HHS (Health & Human Services), where several states are fighting against the Trump administration's present-day efforts to solidify those conscience protections.
Of that solidifying, Reaves said, "This just gave some teeth to HHS to allow them to better enforce these important protections. For example, protections against having to perform abortions or physician-assisted suicide."
Gender Reassignment Causes a Political Divide
The Trump administration would like to modify Obama-era regulations so that health care professionals who morally object no longer have to perform gender reassignment procedures.
"60 percent of people said they would support these modifications. Only 22 percent said they would oppose," shared Robert Vega of the USCCB.
On this question, there is a wide political divide. 75 percent of Republicans support not forcing doctors and nurses to take part in gender reassignment procedures. Only 49 percent of Democrats do.