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How Much Religious Freedom Should Your Gynecologist Have?

Imagine going to the doctor for a morning after pill or an abortion, and being told that you can't have the prescription or the procedure because of the doctor's religious beliefs. Sounds kind of absurd, right? Well, pretty soon it might be the norm. The Bush administration has launched a proposal that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that doesn't enable employees from opting out of providing care that runs counter to their personal convictions. This means that it could get a lot harder to get birth-control pills, IUDs, the Plan B emergency contraceptive, and of course, abortions. The Washington Post reports:

Conservative groups, abortion opponents and some members of Congress are welcoming the initiative as necessary to safeguard doctors, nurses and other health workers who, they say, are increasingly facing discrimination because of their beliefs or are being coerced into delivering services they find repugnant. But the draft proposal has sparked intense criticism by family planning advocates, women's health activists, and members of Congress who say the regulation would create overwhelming obstacles for women seeking abortions and birth control. There is also deep concern that the rule could have far-reaching, but less obvious, implications. Because of its wide scope and because it would — apparently for the first time — define abortion in a federal regulation as anything that affects a fertilized egg, the regulation could raise questions about a broad spectrum of scientific research and care, critics say. "The breadth of this is potentially immense," said Robyn S. Shapiro, a bioethicist and lawyer at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Is this going to result in a kind of blessed censorship of a whole host of areas of medical care and research?"

Apparently there are numerous reports of health care workers having to violate their conscience “by providing or assisting in the provision of controversial medicine or procedures,” and the Department of Health and Human Services wants to ensure that there isn’t discrimination against those with strong religious convictions in the health care profession.

Is it me, or is the answer to this problem just that Conservative Christians shouldn’t go into gynecology? Or, if they do, they need to make it clear to their patients that there are certain procedures they won’t perform, and if the patient needs an abortion, or the morning after pill, she’ll just have to go somewhere else to get it. Being religious means making some sacrifices. As someone who keeps Shabbat, I know I can never run a night club, and while that’s sad for me, it’s not like there aren’t any other options out there. A Conservative Christian doctor can easily choose to be a pathologist, a urologist, or an oncologist without having to compromise his or her religious priorities. If you can’t perform the duties of a certain job it’s not discrimination when you don’t get promoted. I’ve always been a champion of religious freedom, but in this case I don’t see much of a conflict.

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