A liberal friend of mine recently asked me what I thought about doctors refusing to prescribe "emergency contraception" such as Plan B to rape victims. He referred to an MSNBC article on the subject.
In summary, a woman who had been raped went to an emergency room where she talked to a rape counselor and was examined by an ER doctor. The rape victim asked for the morning-after pill, and the doctor refused to prescribe it, allegedly because it was against his religion. She went back to the rape counselor who referred her to another doctor who wrote the prescription.
This happened a few years ago. Plan B is now available over the counter to people 18 and older.
The issue, however, remains. Should a person's desire for some form of medical care force the doctor to act against his or her conscience?
I believe the answer is a clear and resounding "No."
First, the doctor's objection to "emergency contraception" for moral, ethical, and medical reasons is reasonable. He has an obligation to "first, do no harm." We require new drugs to be approved by the FDA for this reason. We expect doctors to follow this principle in prescribing treatment to be sure the cure is not worse than the disease. Based on this principle, American Medical Association policy prohibits doctors from being involved in executions.
Plan B, the best known "morning-after" pill, works by preventing ovulation, preventing fertilization, and preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. A doctor treating a rape victim should be aware that he may, in fact, have two patients, as fertilization can occur in less than one hour. In that case Plan B would prevent the newly-formed human from attaching to the uterine wall, causing the death of the embryo.
Second, medical care, as nearly every other industry in the United States, is an open market. If you don't like your doctor, go to another one. My doctor might not be willing to try a treatment that works for some people but injures others. He is fulfilling his ethical obligation to do no harm with a treatment he believes is harmful. My doctor's knowledge of the treatment's risks may be my greatest protection. I can always go to another doctor who believes the treatment has a chance of success.
Third, freedom of conscience is one of the most basic human freedoms. It led to the settlement of many of the early American colonies. It is still sought by millions of legal immigrants. Freedom of conscience was recognized in the First Amendment right to freedom of worship; in the long-standing exemption from combat for conscientious objectors to all killing; in the patient's right to refuse medical care; and in the AMA's policies.
The MSNBC article alleges: "Catholic and conservative Christian health care providers are denying women a range of standard, legal medical care." Really? What standard, legal medical care? The article lists birth control prescriptions, abortion referrals, infertility clinic services for lesbians and unmarried women, and sterilizations. None of these are medically necessary, life-saving procedures.
What solution would the article's author propose? Perhaps a government mandate that physicians must do certain procedures on request, regardless of their best judgment? I certainly wouldn't want the government telling me how to do my work, and in my line of work, not one life depends on my judgment.
The article acknowledges: "In the end, the women in all of the incidents above were able to get the treatment they wanted, even if they had to go elsewhere." So the free market and respect for a doctor's freedom of conscience is denying needed medical care to no one.
Let's continue to let doctors be doctors, not victims of an ideology that would deny one of the most basic human rights--freedom of conscience--to them.
Wesley Wilson is the President of Let Her Live, a nonprofit dedicated to saving babies by showing the beauty and value of life to women considering abortion. Please learn more about the Let Her Live targeted pro-life billboard campaign. Donations are tax deductible.
Note: This article originally published on the Let Her Live Blog.