Conscience exemptions for health care providers is the subject of a guest piece at the “On Faith” column today. It’s written by Sally Steenland of the Center for American Progress, and it demonstrates nicely the approach of some elements on the left on reproductive issues:

What happens when consciences collide? In the field of health care, the provider’s conscience is given great consideration. For over 30 years, we’ve had federal and state laws that allow health care providers to refuse to provide certain treatments that they object to on religious or moral grounds. In fact, the public debate is usually framed as one of provider conscience vs. patient access. The problem is that this frame ignores the conscience of the patient.

Let’s say a patient needs a prescription for contraception. She is a mother of two and takes birth control pills in order to be a spiritually and emotionally responsible parent. Her decision is one of conscience. When a pharmacist refuses to fill her prescription for religious reasons, he or she is defying the patient’s conscience in favor of his or her own. That is wrong.

In a pluralistic democracy where people hold different beliefs and values, one conscience should never trump all others. Instead, we must find ways to negotiate conflicting consciences so that religious liberty is respected and health care is safeguarded.

Think about that. “One conscience should never trump all others.” In other words, everybody should have to do something they consider immoral sometimes, so that nobody gets their way all the time. Imagine the possibilities:

“Well, I think doing medical experiments on Jews is wrong, but I’ll do it this one time, since I wouldn’t want to trump the conscience of Dr. Mengele, given he thinks it’s OK.”

“I don’t think it’s right to refuse to serve black people at my lunch counter, but I’ll refuse this time so that Grand Dragon Barney isn’t forced to eat lunch next to them.”

“Conscientious objectors have their rights, but the government does, too. We let them skip the last war, so they should have to give in and fight in this one.”

Obviously Ms. Steenland doesn’t have any idea what “conscience” is. Perhaps she can’t imagine anyone actually believing that there are moral absolutes, actions in which one should never engage regardless of what others think. Maybe she just can’t wrap her mind around the notion that some people really do believe on religious grounds that abortion is wrong, and that while they can’t stop someone from having one, they don’t have to be party to the immorality. I’m sure that she can’t understand why anyone would have a problem dispensing contraception, given that the only people who have any objection to it are those enslaved to the wiles of a foreign potentate. But the notion that just because we live in a “pluralistic democracy” there are no limits to what the government can and should compel people to do in order to accomodate the wishes of others is abhorrent. It may be inconvenient, or even costly, for someone to have to find another pharmacist to sell them contraception, or to find another doctor to do an abortion, but the truth is that if one wants these particular goods and services, one can always find a provider. It would be far more costly to society as a whole for us to allow the state to run roughshod over people whose conscience gets in the way.