NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | HHS Challenges ACOG Ethics Opinion on Referrals by Physicians Opposed to Abortion, EC
[March 20, 2008]
The Bush administration has criticized an ethics opinion released last year by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
that calls on physicians to provide referrals for patients seeking abortions, emergency contraception or other procedures if they are opposed to providing the service themselves, NPR's "Morning Edition
" reports. The ACOG opinion, released in November 2007, states that physicians "have the duty to refer patient in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request."
The American Association of Pro Life Obstetrician and Gynecologists
raised concerns that the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology
, which certifies physicians, could revoke certification under the new opinion. On Friday, HHS
Secretary Mike Leavitt sent a letter to ACOG and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology to challenge the opinion. Don Wright, HHS assistant principal deputy secretary, said, "We had great concerns that technically competent, skilled, highly trained physicians could be denied board certification solely on the basis of refusing to refer for abortions, something that might be against their moral compass or ethical standard."
Greg Phillips, a spokesperson for ACOG, said the opinion is not part of the code of ethics that physicians must comply with to receive certification from the board. According to NPR, denying certification to physicians who do not perform abortion services "would be a violation of federal law, which has long protected the right of providers not to perform abortions" (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/19).
Norman Gant, executive director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that HHS misinterpreted the opinion. "They took two and two and came up with five," he said, adding that Phillips' comments are correct because ACOG's opinion is not a binding portion of the group's ethics code and, therefore, not a factor in decisions about board certification. "We do not restrict access to our exams for anyone applying for initial certification, or maintenance of certification, based on whether they do or do not perform an abortion," Gant said, adding, "We do not base this upon whether they do or do not refer patients to an abortion provider if they do not choose to do abortions." Wright said HHS would be relieved to find that the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology is not using the ethics statement for certification decisions but that he hopes ACOG "revisit[s]" its position.
However, Gant said that he personally has no problem with the November 2007 ACOG statement and that he believes ob-gyns should be ethically bound to provide contraception (Rovner, "Morning Edition
," NPR, 3/20).