Religious Exemption to America Itself

Patricia Miller in Religion dispatches tells us that my hometown, Philadelphia, has given doctors wide leeway with religious exemptions to health laws and regulations. The city has adopted a religious exemption policy allowing doctors with objections to certain kinds of care to opt out of providing care, raising questions about the quality of patient services at publicly funded clinics in the city.

And, as always, it’s the poor, particularly poor women and kids, bearing the brunt of this ongoing, largely one-sided war.

“Doris Fernandes, a long-time pediatrician with one of the city’s eight health clinics that serve low-income patients, sued the city in 2013, claiming that it fired her for refusing to comply with an initiative to promote the use of emergency contraceptives and long-acting contraceptives in adolescent populations at high risk for unintended pregnancy. Fernandes, who’s Catholic, told the city’s public health department that ‘participation is strictly forbidden by my religious beliefs and against my conscience.'”

Now, the city said, for its part, that Fernandes was fired for refusing to refer patients who wanted contraceptives to another doctor, for her “lack of empathy,” and for telling one patient who had had an abortion that she had “committed murder.”

Ms. Miller continues,

“Under a settlement reached with the city, Fernandes will receive a low-six figure payment, and a new policy will allow providers with religious objections to “redirect” patients who ask for a given service to appropriate sources in a nonjudgmental fashion. While the policy ensures that patients who ask about contraception will receive some type of referral, formal or not, it still falls far short of the current standard of care for adolescent patients. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that adolescent patients be counseled proactively about contraceptive use as part of routine exams, particularly about emergency contraceptives and long-acting reversible contraception, because of their potential to dramatically reduce teen pregnancy.”

Ms. Miller reports, further, that “The Medical Associations say they encourage routine counseling and advance emergency-contraception prescription as one part of a public health strategy to reduce teen pregnancy, and says these methods should be first-line recommendations for all women and adolescents. It’s no coincidence that it’s exactly these two methods of contraception that Fernandes objected to most strenuously, as many on the religious right are now convinced that both EC and the IUD, are abortifacients and, therefore, especially in need of religious exemption. Yet it’s also no coincidence that these are the methods that give adolescents the most control over their sexuality and their futures, a control that doctors like Fernandes don’t want them to have in the name of religiously-informed beliefs about the proper role of women and sex.”

My take?

The challenges to the Health Law —  and as you know yet a new one’s begun moving up the court-ladder —  for example, forwarded under the stalking horse of Religious Freedom…will never stop at contraception coverage and counseling…some in the newest law suit already have exemptions*…the goal is to get a Supreme Court precedent they believe will allow them to use the disingenuous Religious Freedom banner to opt out of any law they find objectionable.

And medical professionals? Those who want religious law to trump best medical practices…who abandon their medical oath in favor of Iron Age understandings of women and kids (and their oversight), ought to practice in Iran or sign on with ISIS.

Well over two hundred years back Americans soundly rejected religious ideology as a blueprint for civil law…every American Founder, over and again affirmed that ours was and is a republic set in the foundation of constitutional, secular law. And yet this historically self-referential religious minority’s ever-present, arrogant-rejection of our Founders, of our Constitution, now finds a bitter voice in a nation deeply afraid of every imaginable diversity.

These people want legal cover for a religious exemption to America itself.

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