When Law And Ethics Converge: Goodbye To The Trump Administration’s Unconstitutional and Unethical “Conscience Clause”

Today’s decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, voiding the Trump administration’s “conscience rule” that resuscitated the Bush Administration’s similar rule, is right on the law, and, more important for this blog, right on ethics. The Trump version, which was yet to go into effect,  allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they if they disagreed with them on religious or moral grounds.

It was an invitation to open-ended discrimination, and as objectionable in principle as allowing public accommodations to refuse to serve Jews, blacks or gays. This topic has been thoroughly explored on Ethics Alarms over the years, and I don’t have anything much new to say. In fact, perusing my various essays on the topic, my favorite is one that is so old, it was on the Ethics Alarms predecessor the Ethics Scoreboard (on which I am slowly making progress in my efforts to get it back online) and mentions Paris Hilton, working at Blockbuster, and an earlier incarnation of Colin Kaepernick in the NBA.

I wrote, in 2005, Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Hillary And Margaret

Making Ayn Rand seem like Shirley Temple...

Making Ayn Rand seem like Shirley Temple…

Many organizations find themselves conflicted when they accord proper respect and gratitude to their founders. The older an organization is, the more likely that its founder, however brilliant and accomplished, had scary skeletons in his or her closet, and worse, espoused views that modern minds find repugnant. The United States is awash in such founding dilemmas, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, whose private life, and some of his public life too, hardly met the high ideals and aspirations that lit the way for our nation’s creation. Revolutionary hero and “Father of the American Navy” John Paul Jones was an infamous pederast, and the man who built the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, was a racist and extortionist who would have been right at home, perhaps more at home, with the KGB (except for his hatred of communists). There are many more, founders and creators of institutions in every sector of American life.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), however, is an especially hard case. The founder of the predecessor of Planned Parenthood openly and vigorously espoused beliefs that would make her a pariah today, and an embarrassment to the pro-choice movement. She was a racist, a white supremacist, a believer in eugenics, forced sterilization, and government prevention of the proliferation of the “unfit.” It is true that many of her most repulsive beliefs were considered acceptable and even progressive among intellectuals and activists of the time. It is also true that she was vocal in espousing them, and the work she is most honored for as a birth control advocate and an early feminist cannot be easily separated from her other, less admired positions.

Here are some of her more alarming quotes; you can research her writings and speeches more deeply here. Personally, I think she makes Ayn Rand look like Shirley Temple: Continue reading

Taken Down As A Likely Hoax: “Speaking Of Dishonesty, Demonization, And Being Warped By Rigid Ideology, Here’s Sandra Fluke!”

I am taking down the post regarding the alleged insane statements of Sandra Fluke regarding the GOP’s culpability for Anthony Weiner’s sexting.  I am persuaded that it is a web hoax. Though it was sent to me as true, with a reference to “Best of the Web,” a reliable source, I have traced the item back to a blogger who tagged his post “satire” and “humor.”

This is why I detest web hoaxes.

While the claims attributed to Ms. Fluke were absurd and extreme, they were not especially funny, or  so removed from other positions she has advocated that the hyperbole here would be obvious, at least to me.


  • Gratitude and kudos to Arthur in Maine, who refocused my attention on the post.
  • Apologies and regrets to Ethics Alarms readers. I do check sources, but this time I didn’t check well enough.
  • I apologize to my fellow GULC alum, Ms. Fluke, for believing her capable of such idiocy.
  • I apologize to Emily’s List.
  • I apologize to James Taranto, to whom I originally and erroneously credited for the pointer.
  • I do not apologize to Rush Limbaugh or the GOP. My comments regarding them in relation to Sandra Fluke stand.

Ethics Train Wreck Chronicles: Villains, Victims, Hypocrites and Unlikely Heroes In the Contraception / Limbaugh / Fluke Debacle

If this isn’t the Ethics Train Wreck of the Year, we have something truly horrible in store for us down the line. A no-so-brief brief re-cap:

  • The Obama Administration announces that church-run institutions like hospitals and universities will still be required to offer insurance coverage for abortions, sterilizations and other medical matters that might be in direct opposition to church beliefs. It’s a cynical move, designed to cater to the Democratic base at the expense of religious institutions. It is also irresponsible, since it jeopardizes the huge proportion of medical services performed by church institutions.
  • Conservatives scream that the measure is a breach of religious freedom. The is either ignorant or a lie. The Constitution has no provision requiring the government to make special accommodations for churches or church-operated institutions.
  • Caught by surprise by the intensity of the backlash, the Administration crafts a “compromise,” which is essentially deceitful sleight-of-hand, form over substance. The insurance companies now have to provide those services but the religious institutions don’t have to pay for it. But of course they will, through increased premiums elsewhere.
  • Flagging the deceit, Republican attacks on the measure continue. Democrats successfully frame the debate as a conservative attack on contraception, which it is a misrepresentation, and a “war on women,” which is ridiculous and unfair. The issue is churches being forced to provide or pay for services that violate their faith—which the government has every right to do.
  • The controversy activates GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is a fringe extremist in sexual matters and toes the Roman Catholic line. He really thinks birth control is immoral. This position, which is unethical, is suddenly given exposure it doesn’t deserve in the 21st Century Continue reading

In The Catholic Institutions vs Obamacare Showdown, Law and Ethics Trump Morality…And Should

The Christian Soldiers are on the wrong side of this argument.

A controversial rule, announced last month as part of President Obama’s health-care overhaul, requires religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals to provide female employees the full range of contraceptive coverage, including contraceptives, the “morning-after pill” and sterilization services. The measure has  Catholic Church-run institutions up in arms over a system that would force them would  to offer plans that contradict their teachings. Catholic bishops have been leading the growing criticism of the rule,  distributing letters and other materials for distribution to millions of worshipers. Talk radio is abuzz with talk of Obama’s escalating “war on religion.” Even the Washington Post editorial staff criticized the move.

Naturally, the Republican-run Congress announced, via Speaker Boehner, that it would protect Freedom of Religion and block the measure with legislation. All in all, it is a spectacular collision of law, morality and ethics the likes of which we seldom see.

As for simple-minded me, I don’t think this is an especially difficult problem from an ethical point of view. Politics? Practicalities? Culture wars? Yes, those are all extremely difficult considerations in this argument, but they are also not my proper realm. The ethics are clear.

President Obama is right. Continue reading

Good-bye and Good Riddance to Bush’s Unethical “Conscience Clause”

The Obama Administration has deep-sixed a controversial Bush Administration rule that permitted a wide variety of health care workers to  refuse to administer treatments they found morally repugnant, what the Bush administration termed workers’ “right of conscience.”

Hospitals and clinics faced a loss of federal funds if they failed to uphold the rule, which itself was ethically repugnant. Kudos, thanks and hosannas to President Obama for getting rid of the Federal variety; some states, regrettably, still have them.

The American Medical Association’s position on the matter, embodied in a resolution passed by its membership, is clear and well-reasoned. Its reasoning applies to health care workers though the specific subject of the resolution was pharmacist conscience clauses.

The AMA’s resolution, “Preserving Patients’ Ability To Have Legally Valid Prescriptions Filled,” states: Continue reading