If anyone can think of a catchier title for this, by all means let me know. Then again… maybe this isn’t the kind of post that should have a catchy title.
The other week, I was checking out the latest Grand Rounds in order to give myself a bit of a break during lunch, and one of the posts listed was a link to a post in which a woman described her troubles getting emergency contraception after a broken condom. The Grand Rounds host commented thusly in linking to the post: "I fully support a physician’s choice to practice according to their
conscience, and am sympathetic to this particular point of view, but I
still felt badly for this gal’s experience unsuccessfully finding emergency contraception."
So, I clicked on the link, expecting to find a post about someone who’d been given a hard time from one or two people in her quest for EC. Maybe I’m naive, but I would never have expected anything like the kind of troubles I read about. Do read it. Please.
Now, I do understand that there are people who believe that life begins at conception and that prescribing a dose of hormones that may potentially prevent a fertilised egg from implanting is thus morally equivalent to murder. While I don’t share this view myself, I do – very reluctantly – admit that someone who feels that way might have a valid case for calling in a morality clause that exempts them from prescribing EC. This is not to say that I consider their case a given (that’s a subject for a post in itself) – simply that I consider that argument worth at least, well, considering.
But that isn’t what happened here.
To assorted ER doctors in whatever anonymous area of rural Ohio this is: Guess what? If you’re basing your decision on whether or not to prescribe EC on whether or not the woman concerned is married, then I’m afraid you do not get to claim a morality exemption clause. If you’re OK with prescribing EC to a married woman, then you clearly _don’t_ believe that that insensate pinprick-sized speck of cells is a human being whose right to life you must defend. There are possible logical grounds for claiming that a fertilised egg is a human being – I don’t agree with them, but they do exist. There are no possible logical grounds for claiming that a fertilised egg is a human being if it happens to be residing in the genital tract of a woman who is currently single but not if it happens to be residing in the genital tract of a woman who is in possession of a marriage certificate.
Doctors who feel that way are not claiming a morality exemption clause, although I’m sure many of them conveniently manage to convince themselves that they are. They are making a judgement about the lifestyle of the woman concerned. If you are prepared to prescribe EC for a woman who was raped or who’s married but not for women who don’t fall into those two categories, then what you are doing is basing your judgement not on your beliefs about the status of the fertilised egg, but on whether or not the woman chose to have premarital sex. You are claiming that a woman who made this choice should not be allowed to take the same steps to avoid an unwanted pregnancy as a woman who is living up to your view of what constitutes morally acceptable sexual standards.
The purpose of morality exemption clauses is to allow doctors to avoid performing actions themselves that they feel to be morally wrong. it is not to allow doctors to punish other people who have performed actions that the doctors feel to be morally wrong. Refusing treatment to other people solely because you do not approve of their lifestyle choices is not morality. It is bigotry.