March 18, 2008
On Friday, March 14th, Secretary Michael Leavitt (Dep’t of Health & Human Services) issued an important press release announcing his letter to Dr. Norman F. Grant, the Executive Director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). In his letter, Secretary Leavitt stated his justifiable concern that ABOG’s Bulletin for 2008 Maintenance of Certification could require physicians to refer patients for abortions against the dictates of conscience. Such outcomes might arise from the “interaction” of that ABOG Bulletin and a “report” of the ethics committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) (dated Nov. 7, 2007) entitled “The Limits of Conscience Refusal in Reproductive Medicine.
Secretary Leavitt took note of federal laws intended to “protect the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds.” He asked ABOG to clarify its position “[i]n the hope that compliance of entities with the obligations that accompany certain federal funds will not be jeopardized….”
As Secretary Leavitt and the public await ABOG’s answer, the Secretary should be commended greatly for his efforts on behalf of those health care professionals who do not wish to refer patients for abortions or act in other ways that would undermine their commitment to the ethical provision of medical services. In case it is not clear, implementation of the projected ABOG-ACOG policy denying licensing or re-licensing to doctors unwilling to refer for abortions could eliminate pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists from the practice of medicine in the United States. This is unacceptable.