One of the most fundamental rights medical personnel have traditionally had was the right to refuse to perform a procedure if that procedure goes against that person’s religious convictions. For centuries, a doctor who believed a specific medical procedure was morally wrong could refrain from participating in it. Most often, that procedure was abortion, but it could be other procedures such as euthanizing a person, even if requested by that person.
However, there are other procedures that have been objected to over time. Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to do blood transfusions, even if it would save someone’s life. Some object to giving vaccinations, believing they actually cause autism, although I have never heard someone have a religious objection to a vaccination And then there’s hormonal treatment or surgery for those with gender dysphoria; there are many with religious convictions against that.
There has been debate about this over the years, but there has been a general deterioration of the right to object to supporting abortion over religious convictions. During the Obama years, there were a number of actions that were taken:
- Religious groups (though not churches) had to provide abortion as a service to everyone on their health insurance plans
- States were allowed to force pro-life clinics to refer clients if they wanted an abortion
- States were allowed to force all businesses to provide abortion services
While these actions were not directed specifically to medical personnel, the actions themselves attacked the very idea of religious objection to abortion. It was only a matter of time before medical practitioners themselves would not be able to object to doing an abortion. (I have heard of anecdotes of medical schools that forced their residents to perform abortions so they knew how to do the procedure, even if they objected.)
As indicated in the story below, Trump is about to execute an executive order that would allow medical personnel to not participate in abortion if it is against their religious convictions. That is great news. Unfortunately, that type of executive action can also be reversed by executive action. It needs to be codified in law or in a Supreme Court decision. Nevertheless, I appreciate Trump’s action.
Update: On January 18, the Trump Administration announced a new division within the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that supports medical personnel who will not perform abortion or sex change operations based on religious convictions. See https://stream.org/hhs-announces-formation-of-conscience-and-religious-freedom-division/