A group called Medical Students for Choice decries statistics showing that over the past few decades the number of young doctors performing abortions — or trained to provide abortions — has dropped significantly. 

A majority of doctors who provide abortion — 57 percent of them — are older than 50. (But according to the Guttmacher Institute, over the last decade or so, the number of U.S. abortionists has remained stable at about 1,800.) 

More than 50 percent of all abortions are performed by just 2 percent of all American obstetricians/gynecologists. 

Because most abortions are performed in clinics, and only 5 percent in hospitals, where most medical students and residents are trained, most new doctors do not receive hands-on abortion training. 

A culture of protecting conscience rights has yet to take hold, meaning that in practice, many aspiring pro-life nurses and doctors feel pressured.

According to 2008 data, 87 percent of U.S. counties — where 35 percent of U.S. women live — do not have an abortion facility. 

And since 1996, the federal Coats Amendment protects health care entities and individuals who object to providing or receiving abortion training. 

On its face, that’s all good news. But a culture of protecting conscience rights has yet to take hold in many medical school programs, meaning that in practice, many aspiring pro-life nurses and doctors feel pressured, particularly in the facilitation of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. 

Or, in some places, even surgical abortion. Last year under pressure from a conscience rights lawsuit by a pro-life student, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., dropped language from its nursing school application form that advised applicants they would be required “to care for women undergoing termination of pregnancy,” and strongly urged them to apply to another nursing program if that made them uncomfortable. 

HHS rally
People participate in a rally in support of religious freedom in Garden City, N.Y., June 8. CNS photo

And at least five states — California, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin — require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraception, even if that violates their conscience. 

While such lack of respect for conscience rights is part of a culture decades in the making, recent federal actions reinforce it and threaten to further expand it. The greatest threat is the Health and Human Services mandate to employers — even those, like Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Charities, with serious moral and religious objections — to facilitate abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception to their employees. That fits with a general trend toward weakening of conscience rights protections at the federal level that began in 2009 when President Barack Obama overturned the Provider Conscience Regulation, which protected health care workers. 

That’s why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been such a strong supporter of legislation like the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act — which codifies and helps add enforcement teeth to the principle “that no health care entity should be forced by government to perform, participate in or pay for abortions” — and the policy of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. In July, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, head of the bishops’ pro-life committee, wrote members of Congress asking them to “advance these urgently needed conscience provisions.” 

Laws and regulations not only have an obvious immediate impact on conscience rights protection, but they also help further a culture of conscience protection — one that was envisioned in the founding of our country. As good Americans, Catholics should be doing all they can in their support.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor, Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.