GUEST POST: Do free speech and conscience rights apply to everyone? Pharmacists and healthcare workers might wonder about the answer to that question.
A recent court case in Minnesota highlights the worsening crisis of conscience protections for pro-life healthcare professionals. On August 5, an Aitkin, Minnesota, jury ruled that a pharmacist did not discriminate against a woman when he refused to fill her prescription for “emergency contraception.” However, the jury also found the pro-life pharmacist liable for $25,000 in “emotional damages.”
According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the plaintiff, Andrea Anderson, sued after George Badeaux, a longtime pharmacist, refused to fill her prescription for the “morning after” pill. Often referred to by one of its brand names, Plan B, the “emergency contraception” is designed to suppress ovulation and prevent conception. However, studies show that when Plan B does not prevent ovulation or ovulation has already occurred, the drugs may act as an abortifacient by preventing the embryo from implanting in the uterus. Badeaux said that for religious reasons he could not dispense the drug.
Notably, Badeaux was not allowed in court to present his defense as one of religious freedom and conscience rights. Judge David F. Hermerding wrote that the case must focus on if Badeaux discriminated against Anderson under Minnesota law. What is his case if not fundamentally about conscience protections?
Unfortunately, the Minnesota case, shocking for its hefty $25,000 penalty, is not unique. Given trends in mainstream professional organizations and the federal government, cases like Badeux’s may become more common as conscience protections and free speech, cornerstones of American civil liberties, are further eroded.
Professional organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have taken an overtly pro-abortion stance, calling for abortion education for all medical students and ending the Hyde Amendment and private insurers from opting out of abortion coverage. By falsely claiming abortion is a human right, abortion activists can claim that the real right to religious freedom and conscience rights are violations of women’s rights. In such an environment, many doctors, nurses, and pharmacists rightly fear that their licenses will be revoked if they refuse to participate in abortions or administering drugs that could end a human life.
Under the Trump Administration, federal agencies took significant steps to shore up protections for pro-life medical professional. During the Trump presidency, federal administrators set up the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which could independently review alleged violations.
After one year with pro-abortion Xavier Becerra as the head of HHS, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of OCR has been severely restricted in what it can do. By eliminating the division’s ability to investigate independently, the function of ensuring conscience protections is all but nullified.
At the same time that pharmacists like Badeaux are held response for tens of thousands of dollars of “emotional damage,” abortion activists are convinced they can dupe pro-life pharmacists into filling prescriptions for the abortion pill. The push for more telemedicine abortion, more “DIY” and “self-managed” abortions, means that the abortion industry has zeroed in on the abortion pill as the future business model of abortion. Contrary to the claims of abortion activists, pharmacists cannot unknowingly administer deadly abortion pills, and they should not be asked to override their conscience in the service of the abortion industry.
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced legislation last year that would protect pro-life medical professionals. The Conscience Protection Act of 2021 is intended to codify conscience protections and also “provides a private right of action for victims of discrimination.” Senator Lankford said in a press release: “No one should have to check their faith or moral convictions at the door when they enter their workplace. Unfortunately, many health care workers don’t have the legal protection to decline to participate in abortions. Today’s bill provides doctors, nurses, and other health care workers permanent protection from being discriminated against by employers if they choose to follow their conscience and do not wish to perform, participate in, or provide an abortion.”
The Biden Administration and the professional organizations coopted by abortion activists are steadily eroding conscience protections for pro-life Americans. Now is the time to ensure legal protection for pro-life healthcare workers; before it’s too late. Students for Life of America has taken the lead on networking pro-life medical students, law students, and other medical professionals. When pro-lifers know their rights and have the resources to defend them, they cannot be bullied into silence in the workplace.
In addition to defending conscience protections for pro-life medical and legal professionals, SFLA has joined other pro-life organizations defending free speech from the overreach of Big Abortion. In order to defend medical professionals in the workplace, we must also defend the rights of private citizens to state their opposition to abortion.
The case in Minnesota should be a reminder that if we do not actively defend free speech and conscience rights, the abortion industry is happy to take them.
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