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Freedom for Doctors or Oppression for Women?

July 17, 2008 | NeW Staff

Although it is something about which I have very strong beliefs, abortion is a topic that I almost never discuss with others.  It is an issue too charged with emotion, and an issue about which one is rarely open to changing her opinion. However, I think the recent document from the Health and Human Services Department, which redefines abortion, has broader implications, so I will dabble. What it seems to be doing is attempting to allow more freedom to those conscientious objectors:


“Workers in all sectors of the economy enjoy legal protection of their consciences and religious liberties. In the health care industry, there are several statutory provisions that specifically address individuals’ religious and conscience rights….. statutory provisions and appropriations riders have been enacted that prohibit federal programs and State and local governments from discriminating against individuals and institutions that refuse to, among other things, provide, refer for, pay for, or cover, abortion”

Now, personally, I am not a huge fan of the government funding health care to begin with, but in some sense this can be seen as more privatization: letting the health care suppliers meet the demands of their customers as they see fit, with out coercion. In addition, the document goes on to redefine abortion:


“Therefore, for the purpose of these proposed regulations, and implementing and enforcing the Church Amendment, Public Health Service Act §245, and the Weldon Amendment, the Department proposes to define abortion as “any of the various procedures—including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action—that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

This definition not only expands that which health care providers can now refuse to provide, but also suggests that the concept of “human life” is changing. This is exciting and scary to me (especially considering how in Spain the legal rights to “life” and “liberty” have just been extended to great apes). Our most basic “right”, it is generally thought, is the right to life, and from this all our understandings of right and wrong are extended. To reach a consensus on what human life is seems monumentally important, but also a near impossible task. From Laci Peterson to Terry Schiavo, we see cases over the definition of human life all the time. Will this always be an issue?

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