Rights of Conscience Under Attack


Practicing medicine is getting dangerous. Little did I know when I began my medical career 42 years ago that some day the government might force me to provide medical treatment that violates my conscience.

As you might guess, the issue that comes into conflict most often is abortion. Those who believe in abortion are not satisfied that it is legal in this and many other countries. They want every health care provider to participate in this termination of a human life or be punished for their failure to comply.

Never mind that all physicians take an oath before they begin their medical careers that is epitomized by Hippocrates who said, “First, do no harm.” An abortion is fatal to the baby – what could be more harmful than that?

We like to think this kind of treatment is restricted to other countries. There is certainly plenty of evidence of government pressure to perform abortions in European countries like Sweden. Ellinor Grimmark recently experienced the full measure of the Swedish government’s position on this issue.

Grimmark was a 40 year-old mother of two who in 2007 quit her catering job to become a midwife. After years of study to fulfill her dream of bringing life into the world she found herself blacklisted by the Swedish government for her refusal to perform abortions. Now she is the focus of a yearslong legal dispute that may have implications for freedom of conscience laws in Sweden and throughout Europe.

Sohrab Ahmari, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says Sweden faces an acute midwife shortage. Eighty percent of the county councils that run local hospitals reported having trouble recruiting midwives last year. An older cohort is retiring faster than its members can be replaced, and the perception that midwives are overworked dampens enthusiasm for the profession.

Since Sweden has socialized medicine, midwives are employed by local governments that provide them with a monthly stipend while they are in training. In return, they expect them to be compliant with any procedures they determine are needed. Grimmark, a devout Christian, knew that some midwives perform abortions, but she assumed that hospitals would offer conscience carve-outs for practitioners like her who oppose abortion.

In fact, a 2007 study from Umea University found that 35% of Swedish midwives had never been involved with abortions during their careers. But changes in attitudes of Swedish authorities have resulted in determination to root out antiabortion sentiment. To escape the persecution she has received since her antiabortion stance became known, Grimmark travels four hours each way to neighboring Norway where hospitals accommodate abortion objectors, while she pursues litigation to overturn the blacklisting she has experienced in Sweden.

Could this happen in the United States?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) put out this statement in 2016:

“Although respect for conscience is important, conscientious refusals should be limited if they constitute an imposition of religious and moral beliefs on patients. . . . Physicians and other healthcare providers have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request.”


In other words, ACOG respects rights of conscience unless they are based on religious or moral beliefs. Huh? Do they even understand the meaning of the word?

Wesley J. Smith, writing in The Weekly Standard, responds with these comments:

“If ACOG’s view were ever mandated legally, every obstetrician and gynecologist in America would be required to be complicit in terminating pregnancies. Victoria, Australia, has already imposed a legal duty to abort-or-refer on all of its licensed doctors. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a campaign of litigation against Catholic hospitals that adhere to the church’s moral teachings, shopping for that one judge willing to shatter the religious freedom of church-affiliated health care institutions.”


This issue is not limited to providing abortions. It is also relevant to performing doctor-assisted suicide (euthanasia), cosmetic surgery to change gender or other procedures designed to alter the normal bodily function. Surgeons could be forced to mutilate bodies of disturbed individuals such as the radical modifications undertaken by the late “Stalking Cat” who had whiskers implanted to look feline before committing suicide. Female genital mutilation could be demanded by those whose cultural or religious beliefs justify such horrid treatment.

All of this makes me give thanks for the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court, whose judicial track record on upholding religious freedom is stellar. Only a Supreme Court that will defend the rights of conscience and religious freedom embodied in the Constitution by our founders will prevent us from sliding down the same slippery slope found in Sweden today.


  1. Great article, Bob. As always, I benefit from your insightful comments and analysis. Keep up this helpful ministry.

    Comment by Robert Burden on April 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm

  2. Thank you for your encouragement. This issue is of great importance and threatens the religious freedom of all Americans.

    Comment by Robert Roberts on April 19, 2017 at 1:22 am