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Ob-Gyn Group Challenged on New Abortion Mandate Policy.

Dr. Sandy Christiansen, a board-certified OB/GYN physician, remembers well the intense pressure to perform abortions.

"I was the chief of the obstetrical service and was thus responsible for the care and management of all of the obstetrical patients on the clinic service," Dr. Christiansen relates. "We had a patient at the time whose baby was diagnosed with Down's syndrome, and the mother had decided to abort. Since she was so far along, she was to have labor induced and was to be managed on the obstetrical floor.

"I spoke with my attending physician and told her that I did not feel comfortable being involved with this patient's abortion because of my Christian beliefs, and I had spoken with another resident who was willing to oversee this patient's care in my stead. The attending physician proceeded to reprimand me loudly in front of my team of residents, interns, and medical students. She accused me of abandoning my patient, of shirking my responsibilities and being insensitive to my patient. Not once did she acknowledge that I had a legitimate reason to take such a stand."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a radically pro-abortion group which has for years insisted that physicians either perform or refer patients for abortions, recently stepped up its campaign to take choice away from pro-life physicians like Dr. Christiansen.

In November 2007, ACOG issued a new ethical statement, "The Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine." The title well expressed the apparent goal of the ACOGto limit physicians' right to conscientiously oppose abortion.

The new official ACOG policy document stated, "Physicians and other health care providers have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request. Providers with moral or religious objections should either practice in proximity to individuals who do not share their views or ensure that referral processes are in place."

Ominously, the following month the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), which certifies =obstetricians and gynecologists, issued a new bulletin of requirements for board certification. The bulletin appeared to tie the new ACOG ethics statement to a physician's board certificationa key to obtaining hospital privileges and to the livelihoods of ob-gyn physicians.

Pro-life groups joined in a letter to ACOG drafted by the Christian Medical Association.

The groups noted in the letter, "ACOG's misguided and uninformed public statement on conscience limits is bound to have the effect, whether unintended or actually intended, of discouraging persons of faith from practicing or choosing obstetrics and gynecology as a profession. At a time when many communities are already suffering the loss of obstetricians and gynecologists forced out of their practices for economic reasons, it seems especially unwise to send such a message of ideological intolerance and religious discrimination.

"ACOG's aggressive political advocacy for abortion has significantly impaired its ability to speak for all physicians and to judge matters of medical ethics without bias. We urge ACOG to reconsider and withdraw this statement as a step toward remedying that lamentable loss of respectability and credibility."

In March 2008, members of Congress led by Rep. Phil Gingrey, an obstetrician from Georgia, sent a letter to ACOG requesting clarification.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt wrote a letter challenging ABOG, noting potential legal ramifications: "Congress has protected the rights of physicians and other health care professionals by passing two non-discrimination laws and annually renewing an appropriations rider that protect the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds. Additionally, threats to withhold or revoke board certification can cause serious economic harm to good practitioners."

The certifying board claimed in response that it had not (at least in the past) based certification on performing or referring for abortion, but offered no assurances of avoiding future discrimination based on the new ACOG ethics statement. ACOG responded to the pressure by saying it would review the controversial statement.

Both ABOG and ACOG suggested that the new statement would not be binding but failed to identify any w=ritten policy for determining which statements are binding. ACOG eagerly sought to reassure its dues-paying members, noting it had not required physicians to perform abortions but conveniently not mentioning or retracting its requirement that physicians refer patients for abortion.

Meanwhile, the attack on conscience rights has served to highlight the determination of abortion advocates to force their pro-abortion agenda on the medical community. The incident has also helped surface numerous reports from physicians and medical students of discrimination as a result of their conscientious objections to abortion and other controversial medical services. As legislators and federal officials now have an opportunity to examine legislation and regulations to address conscience rights in medicine, ACOG officials may come to rue the fact that its aggressive stance unwittingly awakened a sleeping giant.

Jonathan Imbody is vice president for government relations with the Christian Medical Association (
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Title Annotation:American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2008
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