With the President Bioethics Council expected to meet soon over a proposed law protecting the conscience of pro-life healthcare workers, an association of Christian physicians is urging the public to weigh in on the highly debated issue before the deadline for public comments ends next week.
The proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services calls for stronger protections for health professionals who refuse to participate in abortions or dispense emergency contraception or birth control because of personal, moral or religious beliefs.
The regulation would require hospitals receiving federal funds to guarantee that, in their hiring process, they do not discriminate against nurses and health care workers who object to provide forms of contraception due to moral or religious beliefs. It also lets federal health officials pull funding from institutions that force employees to perform abortions against their conscience.
Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association (CMA), is urging Christians to weigh in on the proposal by posting comments to HHS before Sept. 25.
Speaking on air this week with Concerned Women for America (CWFA), Stevens said there are currently more comments against the regulations.
He said the proposed regulation plays a crucial role in guaranteeing religious freedom both for doctors and patients, protecting the rights of Christian physicians to practice their profession in line with their religious beliefs and the rights of Christians to choose a physician that holds similar beliefs.
"If we don't get these regulations in place, pretty soon there won't be any doctors, nurses and others that share your worldview to go to. They will forced out of healthcare," Stevens told CWFA.
"What's religious freedom mean if you can't practice your life and profession according to those beliefs," he added.
Stevens shared that 40 percent of CMA members say they have been discriminated against because of their beliefs.
That statistic is probably compounded by the fact that many Americans are ignorant of what civil rights healthcare workers possess, according to Stevens in a statement this week.
A recent poll commissioned by the CMA found that only 38 percent of those surveyed knew that in cases where a patient requests an abortion, a doctor has the right to refuse to provide both the procedure and the referral.
Four percent believe the doctor must perform the abortion, according to the poll, while 38 percent selected the response that said the doctor has the right to refuse the abortion but must refer the patient elsewhere.
"This widespread ignorance of civil rights protections helps explain why over 40 percent of our members report being pressured to violate their moral and ethical convictions in healthcare. It also underscores the urgent need for the HHS regulation and to educate the public and medical community concerning civil rights in healthcare," said Stevens.
The CMA head added to CWFA that the loss of the ability to exercise the right of conscience would silence pro-life voices on a whole range issues, from abortion to physician-assisted suicide.
Initial talks of an HHS proposal began circulating Capitol Hill last month, prompting some Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Hillary Clinton to issue a letter against the regulation.
Critics say the wording of the draft proposal would "redefine" abortion and limit women's access to birth control.
Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, had requested the new regulation.
HHS has said in a prior statement that it is simply enforcing legislation already passed by Congress.
The 39-page draft document outlines protections for health care workers who refuse "any of the various procedures – including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action – that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."
Public comments on the regulation can be submitted to HHS via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.