Secretary of Health Michael O. Leavitt has stepped up to protect the right of conscience and conscientious refusal, specifically in the right not to be forced to commit or be complicit in abortion and other forms of killing. The Secretary has sent a letter to the President of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology warning about a possible conflict with Federal anti-discrimination rulings secondary to ACOG’s Ethics Statement #385. (that’s a pdf)
See the LifeEthics post explaining the origin of the conflict, here.
The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetrics and Gynecology, alerted us to the Press Release sent out by the HHS, most likely due to the fact that the ACOG Ethics Committee is meeting Monday and Tuesday, March 17 and 18.
Here’s the news item:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: HHS Press Office
Friday, March 14, 2008 (202) 690-6343
HHS SECRETARY CALLS ON CERTIFICATION GROUP TO PROTECT CONSCIENCE RIGHTS
Unless changes are made, physicians could be forced to refer patients for abortions even if it violates their conscience
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt today expressed disappointment in a new policy put forth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).He also called on the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) to reject this policy and protect the conscience rights of physicians.
In a letter sent to ABOG Executive Director Dr. Norman Grant today asking for clarification, Secretary Leavitt notes, “It appears that the interaction of the [ABOG Bulletin for 2008 Maintenance of Certification] with the ACOG ethics report would force physicians to violate their conscience by referring patients for abortions or taking other objectionable actions, or risk losing their board certification.”
In particular, the Secretary expressed concern that enforcement of this ACOG policy by certain federally-funded entities would violate federal laws against discrimination.
Secretary Leavitt continues, “As you know, Congress has protected the rights of physicians and other health care professionals by passing two non-discrimination laws and annually renewing an appropriations rider that protect the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds.”
The full text of Secretary Leavitt’s letter appears below:
Norman F. Gant, M.D.,
The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology
2915 Vine Street
Dallas, TX 75204
Dear Dr. Gant:
I am writing to express my strong concern over recent actions that undermine the conscience and other individual rights of health care providers. Specifically, I bring to your attention the potential interaction of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s (ABOG) Bulletin for 2008 Maintenance of Certification (Bulletin with a recent report (Opinion Number 385) issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Ethics Committee on November 7, 2007 entitled “The Limits of Conscience Refusal in Reproductive Medicine”.
The ACOG Ethics Committee report recommends that in the context of providing abortions, “Physicians and other health care professionals have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive service that patients request.” It appears that the interaction of the ABOG Bulletin with the ACOG ethics report would force physicians to violate their conscience by referring patients for abortions or taking other objectionable actions, or risk losing their board certification.
As you know, Congress has protected the rights of physicians and other health care professionals by passing two non-discrimination laws and annually renewing an appropriations rider that protect the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds. (See 42 U.S.C. § 238n, 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, 121 Stat. 1844, § 508). Additionally, threats to withhold or revoke board certification can cause serious economic harm to good practitioners.
I am concerned that the actions taken by ACOG and ABOG could result in the denial or revocation of Board certification of a physician who — but for his or her refusal, for example, to refer a patient for an abortion — would be certified. These actions, in turn, could result in certain HHS-funded State and local governments, institutions, or other entities that require Board certification taking action against the physician based just on the Board’s denial or revocation of certification. In particular, I am concerned that such actions by these entities would violate federal laws against discrimination.
In the hope that compliance of entities with the obligations that accompany certain federal funds will not be jeopardized, it would be helpful if you could clarify that ABOG will not rely on the ACOG Ethics Committee Report, “The Limits of Conscience Refusal in Reproductive Medicine” when making determinations of whether to grant or revoke board certifications.
Thank you very much for your assistance in this matter.
Michael O. Leavitt
Kenneth Noller, M.D.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists