Civil Liberties

Moralistic Medicine

Fundamentalist pharmacists


Can pharmacies, stem cell labs, or abortion clinics refuse to hire people who believe their activities are evil? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services doesn't think so. The agency is circulating draft regulations that would outlaw employment discrimination on the grounds of religious and moral beliefs by any entity that receives the department's money.

Since Washington's subsidies are so ubiquitous, the rule would apply even to local pharmacies, because the feds pay for some prescriptions. In effect, the government's money is serving as a Trojan horse for the administration's moral agenda.

The tension between the moral choices of health professionals and the interests of their patients has never been resolved. After Roe v. Wade affirmed a woman's right to obtain an abortion in 1973, Congress quickly passed the Church Amendments, permitting health care providers that receive federal funding to refuse to perform or assist abortions or sterilizations on moral or religious grounds. This means, for example, that Roman Catholic hospitals don't have to offer these services but can still receive government money. The Church Amendments also prohibit employment discrimination against health care providers who object to abortion.

"Religious freedom is an important part of the history of this country," Richard S. Myers, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law, told The Washington Post. "People who have a religious or moral belief should not be forced to participate in an act they find abhorrent." Myers is correct. But why should the religious beliefs of others trump those of patients and employers? People who don't want to participate in medical procedures they find abhorrent have a simple solution: They can choose to work elsewhere.