Date: February 1st, 2018
By: Pat Paluzzi
The new Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was established by this administration to ensure religious liberty in health care and to punish doctors and hospitals that don’t allow workers to express their religious objections. In other words, it places the rights of healthcare professionals above the rights of those they have agreed to care for. As a clinical provider, I find this antithetical to what I believe the healthcare profession is about, and when I heard about it, I recalled a rather embarrassing, but subsequently comical, experience I had years ago.
I was representing my professional association, the American College of Nurse Midwives, at a multi-disciplinary team of professionals collaborating to address substance use. As part of an ice breaker activity, we were asked to name a profession we would not like to be. I named dentist. I went on in great detail how I couldn’t imagine working in peoples’ mouths—gross—mostly everyone dreads going to see the dentist, I had heard there was a high rate of depression and suicide within the profession, etc. Then it was the turn of the woman to my right, who was, of course, a dentist. I couldn’t scramble fast or hard enough to try and undo what I had done (to no avail of course), but I remember saying that my profession would also not be beloved by all, and it just goes to show that we are drawn to what we like and are comfortable with.
So when I read that healthcare workers, who are by their choice in a position to provide contraception or abortion advice or referral, need an agency to protect their religious rights as a basis for refusing to provide those services, I think that they chose the wrong profession; that perhaps they should have been dentists.
Health care is a right for all persons. The healthcare profession is one of service. It is not the role of healthcare professionals to judge the behavior of those seeking their care but rather to assess and address their needs. (If you want more information on this topic, check out our related position statement on the universal right to health care.)
This new office, which puts the rights of professionals ahead of the people they have committed to serve, is just another example of this administration’s promotion of the ideology of a few over the well-being of the many. This division exaggerates the issue of religious freedom within the health care setting and adds to the divisive nature of our current environment.
When and how does this end?
About the Author
Patricia Paluzzi, CNM, DrPH, President and CEO of Healthy Teen Network, has been active in the fields of reproductive, and maternal and child health for over 40 years, as a clinician, researcher, administrator, and advocate. Her clinical and content expertise spans the full scope of midwifery care, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, high-risk maternal child health (including pregnant teens), incorporating men into clinical services, and trauma-informed approaches.