In my last post, I explained why people who purport to object to abortion on moral grounds are being hypocrites by trying to legislatively restrict women’s health care choices, especially through control of funding. I compared opposition to abortion to opposition to war. Another way this comparison is relevant is in the area of so-called “conscience clauses” that allow health care providers to refuse to provide services they find immoral. These are often, directly or indirectly, compared to exceptions that allow people with conscientious objections to war to avoid military service. If the comparison is taken seriously, it shows why the “conscience clauses” as they are currently used are incorrect. The comparison, taken seriously, shows that people who object to providing the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, should not be allowed to become health care providers.

People who are conscientious objectors aren’t put in the military in positions where they won’t kill anybody; they’re not sent over to war zones carrying a rifle with the understanding that if their base is attacked, they won’t actually shoot anyone, they’ll just call one of their comrades to do it for them. We’re not willing to let soldiers die because their fellow soldiers aren’t willing to do their duty. We shouldn’t be willing to let one woman die or be permanently harmed because her health-care provider isn’t willing to provide the necessary care to save her life or her health.

Today’s military is all-volunteer, so there’s very little need for conscientious-objector regulations. Last I checked, nobody was drafted into medical school, either, or nursing school, or pharmacy school. If people voluntarily enter those professions, voluntarily assuming specific duties that their fellow people depend on them to perform, then they’d better be willing to perform those duties.

In some cases, when military service has been compulsory, conscientious objectors have been given alternative assignments that still served the nation’s purposes but presented no moral objections. We should apply the same standard to medical practitioners: if you’re not willing to perform your duties or provide a reasonable standard of care (including not letting women die), then you should be doing something else achieving the same ends. You can be an eye doctor, or a physical therapist, or a child psychiatrist. But you can’t be an on-call ER doctor, and you can’t be the only pharmacist on your shift, just like a pacifist can be in the Peace Corps but not the Green Berets.

I know there are already people in those professions who have these objections. The only reasonable use of conscientious objections in medical care is for such people, and they should be subject to restrictions as I mention above. We can grandfather these people in until they finish their careers, as long as it doesn’t put women’s lives or health at risk. If you have an objection to filling a prescription for Plan B, there has to be another pharmacist available who will, and so on. No medical facility that receives public funding should be allowed to refuse to provide abortions in ways that put the woman’s life or health at risk.

There is an issue of time and convenience here: non-emergency abortions can usually be rescheduled, but ensuring that conscientious objections don’t raise significant barriers to women’s access is a more nuanced situation. Still, these things can be handled while we are in the process of ensuring that all future health care providers are willing to do their jobs.

Any other position is an ill-disguised attempt to conceal a desire to control women’s health care, and ultimately, women’s bodies. When the so-called “pro-life” groups are willing to act in ways consistent with their stated beliefs, I’ll believe them and work with them. Until then, they are hypocrites who want to control me, even to the point of being willing to let me die. I won’t cooperate with people who lie about that.

2 thoughts on “Conscientious objectors and medical care

  1. In some cases, when military service has been compulsory, conscientious objectors have been given alternative assignments that still served the nation’s purposes but presented no moral objections.

    Indeed. However, there have been, at least in the US and (I think) Canada, situations where a conscientious objector refused to serve even in this capacity – refused to take the place of someone who otherwise would go and kill, on the grounds that allowing someone else to kill in your stead is the moral equivalent of killing in your own capacity. These objectors were jailed, and often forced to work anyway.

    1. I respect those people for having the courage of their convictions.Those people, and the ones who refuse to pay taxes that support war, and go to jail as a result, have been consistent in their words and actions; the so-called pro-lifers are not.

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