America is facing a shortage of qualified health care professionals, including doctors and nurses. The Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) has identified over 6,000 Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas across the country, with 64 million Americans living in them. According to HRSA, it would take over 16,000 new primary care doctors in these shortage areas to meet the need. The problem is even more acute in crucial specialties such as obstetrics and gynecology. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that almost one third of women in rural areas live in counties with no practicing OB-GYNs. Observers predict the current problems will only get worse, with some foreseeing nationwide shortages of doctors and other health care professionals in the next decade.
Many factors affect the supply of doctors, including the aging U.S. population, low reimbursement rates paid by government-funded insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, burdensome paperwork mandates, and high medical malpractice insurance costs. But astoundingly, rather than working to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the medical field, advocates of abortion have gone on record saying there should be fewer, not more, doctors.
The latest proof is found in the debate over the Obama Administration’s effort to overturn the provider conscience regulation. This regulation clarifies and implements longstanding federal laws prohibiting discrimination against health care workers who object to performing certain controversial medical procedures, such as abortion and sterilization.
In a New England Journal of Medicine op-ed written in opposition to the provider conscience regulation, UCLA adjunct law professor Julie D. Cantor argues that, to keep our health care system functioning, conscience rights must be stripped away. She believes doctors who practice life-affirming medicine or who otherwise object to providing abortion on demand should be booted out of the medical profession. In Cantor’s view, physicians should be required to provide, counsel on, and refer for “all legal options,” even if it violates their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions. So, if you are a doctor or medical student who has “qualms” with performing abortions, Cantor has a simple prescription for you: “do not practice women’s care.” By Cantor’s logic, if you are opposed to euthanasia (now legal in some states) the answer is simply:: do not practice end-of-life care. In other words, if you happen to hold a view on ethical issues that differs from that of the official, state-imposed view—whatever that view may be, now or in the future—your only choice is to leave the profession or else face potential retribution.
Apparently Cantor and others sharing her view are willing to live with the devastating reductions in women’s access to medical care, especially in poor and rural areas, that would result from her dangerous prescription. Even a small percentage of practicing OB-GYNs leaving the profession would impose dire consequences on patients. Existing shortages would be exacerbated as students avoided or were turned away from training programs in health fields where their views were unwelcome. Not to mention the fact that much health care in the United States is provided by faith-based institutions like Catholic hospitals, which would be forced to shut their doors or reduce services if conscience protections were removed.
Unfortunately for patients, Cantor is not alone. Others, including The New York Times (which said in an editorial, “[a]ny doctors who cannot talk to patients about legally permitted care because it conflicts with their values should give up the practice of medicine”) have made public statements or taken actions reflecting this disturbing viewpoint . By proposing to overturn regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care providers, the Obama Administration is moving in a very troubling direction on health care issues and leaving doctors and nurses open to attack on account of their beliefs.
No one should be forced to violate their conscience. Now is the time to protect conscience rights and encourage caring individuals of all faiths and backgrounds to seek careers in the health professions. Let the Department of Health and Human Services know of your support for regulations protecting conscience rights in the health care work place by visiting www.adoctorsright.com and sending your comment before April 9.