Health Care Chorus: Back in the U.S.S.R.

"The government dictated what physicians must believe, and how they should practice."

Katrina Alexis Belova, a young American medical student from Ukraine, was lamenting the ironic parallels between old Soviet medicine and President Obama’s health care policies (read here).

Katrina recalled how her mother, a physician, was forced to practice medicine without allowance for conscience, under communist rule in Ukraine.

Katrina explained. "Abortion was never an issue in the Soviet Union, simply because the communist government dictated that it was not an ethical dilemma, and all physicians were required to perform the procedure. Those who disobeyed could not obtain their medical license or continue their practice."

If Congress passes the House version of Obama Care (the 158,000-word HR 3200, called “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009”), American doctors will soon face a similar dilemma: obey new government mandates compelling participation in abortion or leave medicine.

HR 3200 provides that “Not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary [of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius] shall, through the rulemaking process consistent with subsection (a), adopt an initial set of benefit standards.”

Court and agency decisions in the past demonstrate that without specific restrictions on abortion coverage, it will be mandated. Beginning in 1973, federal taxpayers were being forced to fund 300,000 Medicaid-paid abortions per year, prompting Congress to ban such publicly funded abortions.

Yet House lawmakers pushing HR 3200 so far have rebuffed pro-life Members’ attempts to explicitly exclude abortion from mandated services. The Senate HELP Committee likewise has nixed similar attempts to inject conscience protections into healthcare reform legislation, opting instead for a Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) pseudo-conscience amendment that would allow virtually any abortion to be classified an emergency and thus compel physician participation.

President Obama has left little doubt how his administration will handle the issue. During the campaign, he told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund that abortion coverage is “absolutely vital” … “at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose.” In March, Obama announced plans to delete a federal conscience regulation protecting such medical professionals from discrimination and job loss for declining to participate in abortions.

The result of abortion mandates, according to a national survey of faith-based physicians, will be to force a multitude of compassionate, life-honoring physicians out of medicine. With Catholic hospitals accounting for one of six hospital admissions in the U.S., and many Baptist, Adventist and other faith-based hospitals and clinics across the country also caring for the poor, such an exodus could spell disaster for millions of patients.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s move to trash conscience protections has met mighty resistance.

A national poll showed that Americans favored the “conscience clause” regulation and the civil rights laws it enforced by a two-to-one margin. During a 30-day public comment period, an astounding 340,000 comments and petitions poured in favoring the regulation.

The White House and Congress ignored public opposition, and instead moved even more aggressively to evolve abortion from a choice into a mandate.

Besides the House bill opening the door to mandated abortion coverage in all health insurance plans, the House of Representatives in July voted to force taxpayers to fund abortions in the District of Columbia. The Senate is now eyeing publicly funded abortions under the eight million-member Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

In each of these actions, the President and Congress tacitly assert that abortion ideology trumps the conscience rights of taxpayers, patients and health professionals like Katrina Belova.

"I became very concerned when I learned about President Obama’s plan to rescind the conscience clause," Katrina said. "It made me uneasy to think that my adopted country, which was always proud of its democratic heritage, had begun to remind me of a communist country my family fled ten years ago.

"If the conscience rule is rescinded and I am obligated to choose between performing an abortion or losing my job, I will choose the latter. And then where will I flee next?"[vii]

The abortion coverage mandate holds the potential to completely unravel healthcare reform, as public knowledge and opposition grows. A recent online "Stop the Abortion Mandate" webcast featuring pro-life leaders including Dr. James Dobson attracted over 36,000 participants. A similar FRC Action “Government Takeover” webcast featuring Sen. Sam Brownback totaled over 70,000 participants. Nineteen pro-life Democrats bolted from party dogma and told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that they’d vote down any bill that would “mandate coverage for abortions, directly or indirectly.”

Congressional and administration leaders would be prudent to accommodate the individual liberties the apparatchiks despised. Otherwise, as happened in the Soviet Union, state-sponsored coercion and disregard for conscience will drain American medicine of its most vital resource: conscientious and compassionate healthcare professionals.