New Conscience Regulations under Active Consideration at HHS

Abortion advocates are up in arms about new federal regulations to protect pro-life health care providers.

According to a draft recently leaked to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning to propose regulations that would refuse HHS funding to health care providers who discriminate against employees on the basis of their pro-life beliefs. If an employee, or potential employee, says that he or she would not provide contraceptives or abortions, the bill states that the provider cannot fire or refuse to hire him or her, on that basis. The draft regulations have not yet been officially proposed.

There are already laws in place that guarantee freedom of conscience to medical personnel. The problem is that these guarantees have not been “operationalized” by means of specific, concrete regulations, and so remain a dead letter. The new HHS rules would remedy this defect, effectively shielding pro-life medical workers from discrimination, allowing them to practice without compromising their moral beliefs.

Abortion advocates are predictably outraged by this development, calling it a “restriction of reproductive rights,” an “act of complicity with the religious right,” among other things. A few of the more astute among them, however, have noticed the deeper threat to their cause, for the new regulations call hormonal contraceptives “abortifacients” — which they are — and talk about pregnancy beginning at conception — which it does. Both positions are anathema to Planned Parenthood and its minions.

To understand why, we have to go back to 1965, when the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) arbitrarily redefined the terms “conception” and “pregnancy.” The group first threw out the then-accepted definition of conception as occurring at fertilization, that is, when the sperm and egg cells unite. ACOG explained that, since conception could not be “detected,” it was impossible to determine whether new life began at that point. It went on to decree that henceforth pregnancy would be defined as beginning only at implantation. This is the time, five to seven days after conception, when the newly formed person, only a few hundred cells in size, implants in the lining of the uterus.

Why did ACOG engage in this pseudo-scientific sleight of hand? Its motives involved both morality and money. In 1965 Roe v. Wade was still 8 years away, and abortion was illegal throughout the United States. Most Americans still equated abortion with murder and wanted nothing to do with it. If hormonal contraceptives prevented implantation — and they do — then most Americans would reject them on the grounds that they caused early-term abortions.

By redefining pregnancy to begin after implantation, ACOG attempted to avoid the charge that its members, in prescribing hormonal contraceptives, were actually encouraging, if not performing, early-term abortions.

Add to this the fact — already apparent in 1965 — that hormonal contraceptives would be big money. The obstetrician-gynecologists that we have spoken with estimate that half of an ob-gyn’s practice — and thus half their profits — comes from prescribing pills and implants. Under the new definition of pregnancy, ob-gyns could write such prescriptions without bothering to tell their patients that they were actually violating the Hippocratic Oath by causing abortions.

To this day, most people do not realize that every form of contraception other than barrier methods (condoms or spermicides) work by thwarting implantation in at least some cases. Norplant, IUDs, Implanon, so-called “emergency contraception,” and, of course, the feminists’ beloved “pill” are all abortifacient.

The new HHS regulations noncontroversially define “abortion” as “the termination of a pregnancy,” but then go on to explain that there are “two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins”: at conception and at implantation. Quoting a 2001 Zogby International American Values poll, the regulations state that “49 percent of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term “abortion.”

HHS does not affirm either position, but simply contends that the views of those who still hold to the scientific position that life begins at conception must be respected.

This is what has the abortion movement and its feminist allies worried. They realize that many of their gains over the last 43 years rest on the ACOG’s ideologically charged redefinition of pregnancy, and are loath to give back any ground. This is why they label, intimidate, bully and browbeat those who hold the traditional — and scientifically valid-view of when pregnancy begins.

Cristina Page of RH Reality Check accuses HHS of “dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data.” Page complains that pregnancy now begins “at some biologically unknowable moment (there’s no test to determine if a woman’s egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she’s not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS’ new science.”

New science? Page forgets that her version of pregnancy is only 43 years old. Not to mention that there’s no test to determine if implantation has occurred either. What pregnancy tests measure is the amount of human chorionic gonadotropin HGC (check spelling) in a woman’s urine, not implantation.

According to Kathy Durkin of the liberal web site Workers’ World, HHS is supposedly redefining abortion “in such an overly broad way as to include many popular and effective forms of prescription birth control, including pills, patches, intrauterine devices and even emergency contraception. The document deliberately misnames them ‘abortifacients’ (abortion-causing) when, in fact, they are birth control methods.”

No, Ms. Durkin. They are, in fact, methods of abortion.

Finally, there is Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who almost became the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. Clinton indignantly blogs that the Bush Administration is “up to its old tricks again, quietly putting ideology before science and women’s health . . . We can’t let them get away with this underhanded move to undermine women’s health and that’s why I am sounding the alarm.”

We believe this to be an apt description of what ACOG did in the sixties, and what abortion-minded feminists continue to do to the present day as they slavishly devote themselves to their dogma of abortion-on-demand.

Coming back to essentials, it has been the consistent position of the Catholic Church, and of the best science, that pregnancy begins at conception, and that in uniting, the sperm and the egg create a new and unique human being.

This position has been restated time and time again by the late John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI. Benedict may be hailed as the “green pope” for his emphasis on stewardship of the environment, but the press seems tone-deaf to the context of the pope’s exhortations. At the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, Pope Benedict insisted that “concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity.” But he went on to say that these concerns cannot be “understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.”

In other words, human life begins at conception, not at implantation. However important it is to stop environmental pollution, it is even more important to stop polluting the most sacred environment of all, the womb.

And abortifacient contraceptives not only pollute, they kill.


Earlier this week [Population Research Institute] sent out a Weekly Briefing (the above text) explaining how the Department of Health and Human Services has come under fire for even considering strengthening their conscience regulations. These regulations would refuse HHS funding to health care providers who discriminate against employees on the basis of their pro-life beliefs. If an employee, or potential employee, says that he will not provide contraceptives or abortions, the bill states that the provider cannot fire or refuse to hire him or her, on that basis.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt is giving every signal that he wants to do the right thing. Mr. Leavitt is a friend to the pro-life cause on this issue, and he is in a position to do what we want. We need to back him up as much as possible, especially since the opposition is increasing the pressure against him.

How do we know this? On August 12 Secretary Leavitt wrote this in the HHS blog:

I want to reiterate. If the Department of Health and Human Services issues a regulation on this matter, it will aim at one thing, protecting the right of conscience of those who practice medicine. From what I’ve read the last few days, there’s a serious need for it.

Earlier, on August 8, Secretary Leavitt wrote this in the HHS blog:

Several months ago, I became aware that certain medical specialty certification groups were adopting requirements which potentially violate a physician’s right to choose whether he or she performs abortion. I wrote to the organizations in question, protesting their actions. Frankly, I found their response to be dodgy and unsatisfying. I sent another letter, more of the same.

Not only are there clear provisions in three separate laws protecting federally-funded health care providers’ right of conscience, but doing otherwise undermines the most fundamental moral underpinning of freedom of expression and action. I asked that regulations be drafted which would enforce these long-standing laws protecting a medical practitioner’s conscience rights.

An early draft of the regulations found its way into public circulation before it had reached my review. It contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion. Not true.

The Bush Administration has consistently supported the unborn. However, the issue I asked to be addressed in this regulation is not abortion or contraceptives, but the legal right medical practitioners have to practice according to their conscience and patients should be able to choose a doctor who has beliefs like his or hers.

The Department is still contemplating if it will issue a regulation or not. If it does, it will be directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience.

Many have provided comments on this subject and they will all be included under this posting (

Please contact Secretary Leavitt at his office and urge him to prepare regulations to guarantee freedom of conscience for medical providers. As I mentioned above, you can call his office and leave this message with his staff at 202-690-7000. Or you can fax your letters directly to his office at 202-690-7203.

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