"Just Tell Them...

I have worked 40 years to make the Women's Suffrage platform broad enough for Atheists and Agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to speak or pray and count her beads upon."

Susan B. Anthony

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where I Stand on the "Conscience Clause"

First I think it is fair to tell you ... that I am a Unitarian Universalist. As a general rule, Unitarian Universalists believe in the "right of conscience." I'm no different. I don't want anyone, anywhere, to ever be forced to do what they find morally reprehensible.

It is on these grounds that some of us may choose to be Conscientious Objectors when a military draft is instated. My husband, for instance, was a C.O. during the Viet Nam war.

I want my government to honor Conscientious War Objectors.... and there is a process by which that can happen. You can read about the process HERE.

So, why can't we have a way to honor those who object to abortion as an act of conscience? A process, such as the C.O. designation? Why must we continue to divide ourselves over these kinds of issues?? Which are, in reality, non-issues.

Why do I say they are non-issues? Because, in my own experience as a mother/baby nurse for 27 years... I always had the right of conscience. Or at least I thought I did. No employer ever forced me to do things I felt were morally wrong. There was one time that I asked to be reassigned because of a LTA. And I often cajoled my way out of nursery duty where I would have to aid in cosmetic circumcisions.

Let us examine the issue more closely..... and agree that it is bad business for any company to hire workers that are opposed to what they do. A worker that cannot fulfill a job description is not usually hired. And if s/he is hired doesn't last long.

In essence, GWB's proposal will place undue burden on employers. Those employers will have to provide back-up personnel who will do what their C.O. population will not. That will add expense. And make the system unwieldy. On those grounds, I can see an argument for why the clause should be overturned.

But, I must admit... I am alarmed at my fellow "Liberals" and "Feminists" who are out in the blogosphere ranting about how every doctor, nurse, and pharmacist should be forced to mete out abortifacents. Frankly, I don't see how you can stand on that ground ... without also standing on the ground that says every able bodied man and woman should kill Iraqis. And, I know most of you would not say that.

Which brings me back to my original point. When I was actively practicing as a nurse, I was NEVER forced to go against my conscience. Not once. And I worked in many kinds of institutions.

I'll qualify this by saying that I am one of those complicated pro-choice and pro-life Feminists. I don't want abortion criminalized. I know what can happen when desperate women cannot obtain the help they need to control family size. Yet, I am opposed to LTAs. And I will not, as a nurse, participate in one. That's me. And that's my right. I no longer buy the "slippery slope" analogy. I believe in a middle ground. (As did Susan B. Anthony, herself a Unitarian.)


I now submit for your evaluation, evidence that this "conscience" issue has been on the table forever... and has led exactly nowhere:

A few cases like the one in this article will be all that's required to overturn Bush's "Conscience Clause" as it stands. Because companies like K-mart are already buckling under the strain of our economic situation. And they don't need the additional burden of employee lawsuits. That makes GWB's last stroke of the pen a gift for the incoming Obama. Barack can now overturn the clause, claim it is harming the economy... and win brownie points with Feminist groups for doing essentially nothing. (Sound familiar?) Meanwhile, Bush gets brownie points from his pro-life crowd. And all the men are happy!

But, nothing is solved for us women.

We need to call for a way in which health care workers can seek asylum, and be allowed to "conscientiously object" to what they can't, in good conscience participate in. And at the same time employers need protection from having to hire folks who can't fulfill a job description.

Otherwise we'll be battling this out forever.


  1. Wow, what an excellent, thoughtful post. I'm not sure yet where I stand on this issue yet. I also tend to be pro-choice and pro-life. I would like to eliminate the need for abortions as much as possible.

    Mostly, I would like to neutralize this red herring for pro-choice and pro-life women alike. It's fractured their ability to work together to make women's lives better in general.

  2. Anonymous10:34 AM

    I agree there is a middle ground. Too many people are exploited by appealing to the Either/Or mentality. We're not cavepeople any more, we should move out of the Stone Age of tribal alliances and mistrust of anyone a smidge different from ourselves!
    As long as a pharamacy employs at least one person willing to dispense birth control and the morning after pill and that person is on duty with someone opposed, what's the problem?
    This country has enough troubles, fiscal and otherwise, without borrowing more by introducing petty lawsuits.

  3. Good point, Boudicca. And, in fact, that kind of thing is done all the time in pharmacies.... where some pharmacists are perhaps licenced or certified to do things that others are not.

    Thanks for commenting too!


  4. Thank you Anna Belle. And also thanks for posting this cartoon... I found it on your blog and was not sure who to credit for it.


  5. Anonymous2:13 PM

    Hi SYD,

    That's one of the most thoughtful commentaries I've read on the complicated abortion issue. I like your common sense approach in contrast to the self righteous black and white thinking that set us up for a never ending and painful controversy.

  6. Here is the deal -- this is about drugs stores in small rural towns and in ghetto areas where transportation is a problem. No grocery stores and one drug store and everyone taking the bus or walking. Somehow these places attract religious misogynists pharmacists who refuse women the morning after pill and even birth control pills. This happens in WI routinely -- We had to pass special legislation which these new regulations negate. We are overloaded with catholic hospitals and social agencies soaking up everyone's tax money, forcing out other hospitals who behave more professionally and then refusing to assist women who do not wish to breed for whatever reason. The worst are the small town pharmacists in the lone drug stores. They like to lecture the women while she is standing at the counter with her neighbors around her and then they refuse to transfer the prescription so she has to get another one. This means a day lost in getting the pill she needs. It is BS and they should lose their license -- that is how I feel.

    I just learned Bush gave the catholics 6 million to work with trafficking victims who are raped, have
    STDs from unprotected sex and need Birth control devices, rubbers and abortion. The catholic church refused to provide any of this or refer them to places they could get it. The ACLU is suing and I personally am waiting for the day those devils lose their tax exempt status forever.

  7. Green,

    That is why employers need to be able to hire people who fit their job descriptions.

    Quite honestly, though, I find it hard to buy the nightmare scenario you are painting. As it so much flies in the face of my own experiences.

    Anyone can spout off about the evils of Catholics. And small town pharmacists. I am sure some of them are "evil." And the ACLU can certainly sue them.

    But, in the long run we need to find the middle ground, whereupon a health care worker can live by what her own conscience dictates... while at the same time the institution that hires her (or not) can protect itself from frivolous lawsuits.


  8. VB,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. O speak from my own experience. And from my heart. That is all I have to offer.

    This, as you know, is not a simple matter. And we all need to work together to find reasonable responses.