DeGette sounds alarm against attempt to strengthen anti-abortion conscience clauses

MSNBC host Chris Matthews this week asked Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, head of the congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, about how the anti-abortion bills introduced as a top priority in the Republican-controlled House might affect Americans should they become law. DeGette said that, from the perspective of women’s health care, the bills are “riddled with little land mines.”

Matthews zeroed in on Rep. Joe Pitts’s (R-Penn.) HR 358 “Protect Life Act.” Pitts’s bill aims to strengthen medical conscience clauses that allow doctors who oppose abortions to refuse to provide them even in emergencies.

Looking for clarification, Matthews painted a hypothetical case.

Aren’t all hospitals in the U.S. — no matter what religious affiliation– aren’t they required to give emergency treatment to pregnant women who come in after a car accident, say, and their life is threatened, he asked. Aren’t hospitals required to save the life of an injured woman even if it means aborting the fetus?

“You know, I believe in a conscience clause,” said DeGette. “I believe that’s important. But under current law, if a woman comes in and she’s gonna die if she doesn’t get the medical service, then they have to provide that medical service. This new legislation would eliminate that law.”

“So why would someone want to do that?” asked Matthews.

“Because they don’t value the life of the mother, that’s why,” said DeGette. She didn’t get to expand on that point.

Some doctors will say that doing any harm, as to a fetus in the scenario presented by Matthews, goes against the core of what they do. In such a case, they will work to save the woman but only up to the point where clear harm to the fetus would result.

The law in its current form prioritizes the woman, it frankly recognizes that the woman has a life and loved ones in the world, including perhaps other children who she has given birth to and is raising. The fetus, or even the day-old fertilized zygote, is not yet in the world and its rights and responsibilities de facto and de jure pale in comparison.

The questions raised by the law are complex and they are being made more urgent as these legislative debates heat up and as health care realities change on the ground.

As Catholic organizations have taken over the vast majority of hospital administration in the Denver and Jefferson County area in the last year, for example, counting on hospitals here to save the life of a pregnant women at the expense of her fetus in an emergency is no sure bet.

Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System last February assumed control of two hospitals in the Denver metro area formerly run by Exempla Healthcare. Nearly 40 percent of hospital beds here are now being run under directives approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“You have to respect that, if this is their hospital, they have certain rights on how to run it,” said State Senator Linda Newell, D-Littleton, at the time of the deal, pointing out that, on the other hand, people don’t always acquaint themselves with hospital policies before they need medical care, and insurance policies also sometimes dictate what hospitals patients can visit.

“You could have a patient not knowing they are going to a hospital that won’t honor their advance directive, and that isn’t right. You could have a rape victim taken to the hospital who won’t be advised of the choices that should be available to her, and that is very scary… Someone could die while trying to find another hospital,” she said.

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