Despite the fact that most Americans might hope that Bush lays low in the final days of his historically unpopular presidency, he’s decided to try to push through at least one last-minute agenda: a plan that would allow health care providers to refuse to perform abortions and other procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds.
The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.
The counsel, Reed L. Russell, and two Democratic members of the commission, Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine M. Griffin, also said that the rule was unnecessary for the protection of employees and potentially confusing to employers.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, Mr. Russell said, and the courts have defined “religion” broadly to include “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”
It’s not that anyone wants to force doctors who object to abortions to perform them. They already don’t have to. That’s the point. This is unnecessary and confusing.
But the bigger problem is that it puts something that doesn’t belong between a doctor and his duty to care for a patient to the best of his or her ability. If a woman wants birth control, she should be able to go to her doctor and get it. If a pregnancy endangers her life, she should trust that a doctor would counsel her on abortion. If a patient needed a drug that had been tested on animals to regulate their blood pressure, a doctor who was also a member of PETA wouldn’t be able to refuse to prescribe it.
But all of this goes back to some wonky religious ideas that have nothing to do with religion. It’s part of what I’ve decided is the overall problem with Christianity as its practiced by some in this country. Other religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, celebrate gods or forces that are both creative and destructive. Destruction clears the way for creativity. As was once put to me by the son of a Pentecostal preacher (whose religion required him to wear pants through unbearable Arkansas summers but did not prevent him from reaching the logical conclusion that evolution was the most likely explanation for how life on earth had changed over time), the existence of good depends upon evil, or it ceased to have any quality at all. Christianity cast out the destructive force when it sent the devil to hell.
The religious right only believe God exists when they decide a life is created. So God enabled doctors to be able to fertilize eggs in a test tube for couples who otherwise couldn’t have children, but he doesn’t allow them to use those cells to save lives that already exist. Likewise, a woman who might die in childbirth can’t abort the baby, though doing so would help perpetuate the human race even more than the risky pregnancy because she could survive and reproduce in the future instead. And God didn’t enable us to regulate our own reproductive lives, thereby giving our offspring a better chance.