Right On: Abortion, religion and civil rights

Composite image, St. George News

OPINION — If government can force individuals to act contrary to their consciences in order to achieve its notions of a better world, is there any limit to the government‘s right to coerce?

That question is all too real for health care professionals faced with requests to participate in abortions, assisted suicides, sex changes and the like.

Those individuals are allowed to refuse to participate on religious or moral grounds under federal law enacted in the 1970s. The law is known as the Church Amendments, named after Democratic Sen. Frank Church who sponsored its passage. Individuals who exercise their right not to participate are protected from discrimination by their employers.

Always ready to subvert laws it didn’t like, within two weeks of taking office the Obama administration proposed rules to emasculate the Church Amendments. This action signaled to hospitals and other institutions that they had more freedom to ignore existing law.

Cathy DeCarlo, a staunch Catholic nurse, was caught up in Obama’s zeal to facilitate abortion. She’d stated clearly she didn’t do abortions when she was hired in 2004. Nonetheless, she was forced into participating in an abortion in May 2009.

She was shocked watching a doctor dismember and remove bloody limbs from a near-viable, 22-week fetus and then disgusted as she had to account for all the pieces. “It was like something out of a horror film,” she said.

DeCarlo’s civil rights were clearly violated. Her case was readily taken to court by right-to-life advocates and the hospital made substantial revisions to its abortion practices as a result.

What’s interesting is how some civil rights violations seem to merit a lot more liberal media coverage than others.

Starbuck’s was accused of racial profiling when two black men were asked to leave by an employee after failing to order for an extended period. The employee called the police who arrested the men; they subsequently were released without charges.

A tweet expressing outrage received over 235,000 Twitter “likes” and the story was widely reported in the liberal media. Yet odds are high you’ve never heard of Cathy DeCarlo.

Civil rights have been at the forefront of the liberal agenda for decades. Any isolated incident is treated as symptomatic of a racist, misogynist and homophobic society.

Yet these same civil rights zealots are often hostile to the most fundamental of rights: religious freedom. Instead of defending this most basic civil right, they frequently accuse those who assert that right as bigots using religion as a cover.

The First Amendment to our constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  And I might add neither can any court in this country.

I find it instructive that religious freedom – freedom of conscience – was the first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Yet it’s the one most under attack from the left today.

Recognizing that health professionals like Cathy DeCarlo continue to face challenges to their civil rights, the Trump administration has created a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Roger Severino, a former Justice Department lawyer, will head the new division. He says, “We are institutionalizing a change in the culture of government, beginning at HHS, to never forget that religious freedom is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right.”

Reaction from the left was predictable and shrill.

Civil rights advocates argue that the Trump administration is misusing civil rights laws intended to protect women and LGBT people by making it harder to obtain abortions, gender-reassignment and other care.

Jocelyn Samuels who headed Obama’s HHS Office for Civil Rights said the new division is “potentially really damaging to women.”

Stop and think about those objections. The Church Amendments guarantee that health care professionals can opt out of providing services to which they object. The new HHS civil rights division does nothing to restrict other providers from offering these services.

The real message here is that so-called civil rights activists object to freedom of conscience. They believe refusing to provide their preferred medical services should be a punishable offense, even when those services are readily available from others.

No doubt these activists have strongly-held beliefs about allowing individuals the freedom to choose these medical procedures. But no surprise that some health care professionals have equally strong convictions about their religious beliefs and the direction they should take their lives.

There is no inherent conflict between these civil rights: individuals holding either point of view can work in the same organizations. But liberals, who pride themselves as champions of diversity and the right to choose, show once again that their tolerance ends as soon as someone disagrees with them.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • bikeandfish October 11, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Actually the first link regarding the Church Admendments highlights the maintaince of these protections under both the ACA and via an Obama EO. The second link supposedly highlighting Obama’s efforts to undermine those protections only highlights a 30 day review that preceded both the ACA and the EO; its just a opinion piece speculating about Obama’s preference without any evidence (citations are broken links to another opinion piece).

    Howard is alo ignoring one glaring element of the Church Admendments, which is that explicitly deals ONLY with HHS avtivity, organizations that receive federal grants or eliminating government officials from forcing healthcare workers to perform these procedures. So it does not apply to private organizations that don’t receive federal support.

    Also to clarify, abortion is not readily available. To the contrary, its often difficult to find providers in many parts of the US.

    Its ridiculous to claim that DeCarlo “was caught up in Obama’s zeal to facilitate abortion”. Neither is a reasonable claim.

    Conscientious objection is an important protection. But there are also valid concerns of professionals denying medically needed procedures due to personal or religious beliefs. Its a complicated subject whose nuance is often lost in translation. I have heard activists completely dismiss the issue but we also see the opposite in pieces like this. There is a persistent animus and bias i presentation by folks like Howard that also does a disservice to the dialogue.

    All in all I think Howard’s presentation of the issue is highly flawed and lacks a loyalty to the facts over loyalty to ideological spin. But we are going to have to account for the complexities of these issues given social changes

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.