Most pregnancy help centers and clinics have a referral list of obstetricians/gynecologists that they provide to their clients or patients for follow-up care. The centers and clinics want to guarantee that the doctor to whom they are referring will not unravel all of their hard work and steer the patient into making an abortion decision. Therefore, some centers ask their referral physicians to enter into an agreement to insure that the doctors do not perform or refer for abortions.
No physician is required by law to refer for abortion services. State and federal conscience clause laws allow them to refuse to participate in providing services that they find morally objectionable—such as abortion.
At least 45 states have such "conscience clauses" on their books. These are laws that balance a physician's conscientious objection to performing an abortion with the profession's medical obligation to provide medical services. The American Medical Association (AMA) has a policy supporting conscience clauses. It states, "Neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally held moral principles."
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These conscience clauses also clearly protect a medical professional from being forced to refer for an abortion. In providing medical services, a physician is expected to provide sufficient advice to a patient seeking information about abortion, so that she is able to make an informed decision about her options. (This does not extend, however, to providing an abortion referral as most pro-life physicians see such a referral as direct participation in the abortion act.) This expectation would be met with the direct provision of medical advice.
Physicians should, of course, inform their patients of all life-affirming options if the patient is considering an abortion, and they should provide current data regarding abortion procedures and complications; i.e., growing evidence of serious breast cancer risk. The physician should be equipped to give any abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable patient information that will empower her to make the right choice to choose life.
To the right is a sample agreement that your center or clinic might want to use to discuss these issues with your referral physicians. Perhaps physicians who struggle with this issue can be inspired by the words of George Washington, who admonished his fellow Americans to "labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."
Anne O'Connor is the general counsel for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). She is a member of the bar associations for the states of California and New Jersey.