Imagine you’re a healthy, actively dating woman in college. You’ve been dating this guy for a couple of weeks, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s going great. The two of you are beginning to get intimate, so like any rational, college-level woman actively dating, you go to your doctor for birth control pills. He says, “No, I won’t give you any.” Caught off-guard by his response, you ask, “Why the hell not? You’re my doctor; that’s your job.” So he says, “It’s my personal belief that contraception is morally wrong, so I don’t want you or any of my patients using it.” You ask, “Well, can you at least refer me to another doctor who will do what I pay him for?” He tells you, “No, I don’t want you using birth control because I think it’s wrong, and it has no good medical purpose.” He shows you the door, and that’s that.
In most circumstances, your doctor could find himself in huge trouble for refusing to help his patients. At the very least, he would experience an immediate decrease in patients because they would all go to another doctor for birth control. However, the Bush Administration seeks to prevent such negative consequences for religious medical workers. Last month, it proposed a set of regulations designed to protect health care workers who refused to assist in abortions.
As if that weren’t counterintuitive enough, these same rules also pose a significant threat to standard methods of contraception, such as birth control and the morning-after pill. In some instances, the doctor may not even have to refer you to another doctor. They’d be allowed to leave you out in the cold. The Bush Administration’s almost offensively ignorant religious viewpoint is evident in the early draft of the regulations, which defined the use of contraceptive pills as abortion. Luckily, the final document that was issued did not include this nonsensical definition.
“This regulation is not about contraception. It’s about abortion,” said Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Coincidentally, Leavitt also acknowledges that some medical providers will probably want to “press the definition” that contraception is tantamount to abortion.
The Bush Administration is using an age-old political maneuver in order to skirt around touchy human rights issues: turning to the Constitution. They are not so much outlawing abortion (and possibly contraception) as they are acknowledging the human rights of medical providers and their moral beliefs. Let’s ignore this misinformed belief that contraception is equivalent to abortion for a second. To risk repeating the basic argument of those who are pro-choice, what right does any doctor have to make decisions on a patient’s personal life?
If taking birth control or getting an abortion was detrimental to a woman’s health, that’s one thing. But a doctor’s only “moral belief” as a practicing professional should be to help his patients, not to impose his beliefs on them. A doctor should take care of your body, not your eternal spirit. Refusing to give a patient birth control will only make a woman’s life more difficult and tarnish the doctor’s reputation. If someone has an issue with the duties of being a doctor, then it’s their own responsibility for knowing what issues that career entails.
Of course, this does not mean that every single doctor will suddenly sweep birth control off of their shelves once the legislation passes, but it does spell trouble for women who are limited to a local doctor, whether for financial or geographical reasons. It can also make life harder for women living in fundamental religious communities.
Some students feel that such legislation is not wholly necessary. “While I am conservative … anything that we pay for that’s going to prevent me from living my sexual life is not something I [want] to be a part of,” said Aaron Friedland, a second-year business economics major.
Matan Darey, a fifth-year criminology, law and society major, echoes similar sentiments.
“I feel like it might make things harder for some people. At the same time, I’m sure the majority of doctors will still perform the procedures in question,” Darey said. “And thanks to the good old Internet, finding doctors who’ll do it shouldn’t be too hard.”
When a doctor dons his white lab coat and stethoscope, he should know what his job entails. When it comes to birth control, it should make no difference to him. He’s helping to prevent his patient from getting pregnant, not aborting a fetus. Refusing to help with an abortion is another matter – regardless of his misguided, and probably religious, reasons – because he would be actively engaged in the procedure. However, as a lot of us have learned, you can never talk to the religious right, or the Bush Administration for that matter, about these things.
AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.