March 11, 2011

Be Our Guest / Dr. Hans Geisler

The erosion of liberty in America

When one looks at the changes that have occurred in the United States in the last year and three months in regard to issues directly affecting conscientious Catholics and, indeed, all Christians, one is reminded of the tale of the frog placed into a tub of lukewarm water.

Slowly, the heat underneath the tub of water is turned up, but the frog is so comfortable that it never notices the gradual rise in temperature. Finally, the frog realizes that the water is boiling, but by then it is too late to jump out.

One of the first changes to occur when the present White House administration came to power was its abrogation of the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” which was meant to ensure that any money appropriated for foreign aid would not be used to fund abortions in the countries receiving that foreign aid.

More recently, the orders extent in the U.S. Department of Defense since the mid-1990s banning openly gay or lesbian men and women from joining the armed forces were rescinded.

Within the last few weeks, the public was informed that the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton during his administration, would no longer be defended in court by the U.S. Department of Justice.

This withdrawal of judicial support for defending the model of “one man, one woman” as a definition of marriage means that marriage between two women or two men would, in essence, have as much standing in the eyes of the government in Washington as the common-sense reality that marriage can be contracted only between two people of the opposite sex—a basic tenant relating to marriage from the time of the world’s creation.

Finally, in mid-February, another change in the evermore ambiguous moral tone prevalent in Washington was introduced so silently that most Americans did not even take note of its occurrence.

Not many U.S. citizens were aware that the Bush administration, during its waning months in office, by executive order, promulgated a federal regulation broadening the existence of federal conscience statutes related to abortion to include health care professionals opposed to emergency contraception, such as Ella or Plan B drugs, which can also act as abortifacients (see

In so doing, conscience protection rights were extended to everyone engaged in one of the health care professions, such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Accordingly, health care workers could opt out of prescribing, administering or selling Ella or a Plan B medication because, in so doing, they would be acting contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.

For example, if any pharmacist was opposed to selling abortifacient contraception, such as the Plan B “morning after” pill, on moral and/or religious grounds, they could do so without risking their job security.

Sadly, the present Department of Health and Human Services, by another executive order, has rescinded the extension of the conscience protection rights granted under the Bush administration.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, replacing the executive order enacted in the previous administration, narrowed the conscience protection rights of health care workers so that now they are protected only from having to participate in abortions or sterilizations on moral or religious grounds.

Accordingly, a physician presumably will have to refer a patient to an abortion provider, if asked, even if morally he or she is opposed to such a referral. Also, a pharmacist would have to sell Ella or the Plan B drugs even though in good conscience he or she is opposed to such a transaction.

I submit that the changes listed above that have occurred since January 2009 are examples of an evermore rapid erosion of our moral and religious liberties, which remains unnoticed by many people.

These liberties, I believe, were enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights since the beginning of this nation, arguably the greatest experiment ever tried by man, and dedicated to upholding the innate dignity and freedom of all human beings.

Finally, as hard as it may be, I firmly believe that we must steadfastly, in any legal and moral way we can, resist these erosions of our moral and religious freedoms.

(Dr. Hans Geisler is a retired gynecologist-oncologist and member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. He is certified in health care ethics by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.)

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