Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley has come under fire for saying pro-life medical workers with conscientious objections to some treatments “probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.” One critic said her remarks are a “wake-up call” about the threats to the religious freedom of orthodox Catholics.
Coakley, a Democrat and Massachusetts Attorney General, is seeking to fill the former seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Recently her campaign has targeted her Republican opponent, state senator Scott Brown, for proposing an amendment to 2005 state legislation which mandated the provision of emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault.
Brown’s amendment, which was defeated, would have provided conscience protections for medical workers “to the extent that contraception conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief.”
Ethical and religious objections to “emergency contraception” for victims of sexual assault center on the possibility that the treatment will prevent the uterine implantation of any embryo conceived in the assault or in sexual relations before the assault.
Normally the drug works by preventing ovulation. There is debate over whether it renders a woman’s womb hostile to a fertilized egg, a new human being, if she has already ovulated.
Coakley’s controversial comments came in a Thursday interview with WBSM radio talk show host Ken Pittman.
Pittman asked if she would support health care legislation what would protect a “conscientious objector” to procedures such as abortion.
Coakley said she did not exactly understand the question and then criticized Brown’s 2005 amendment.
“I would not pass a bill, as Scott Brown filed an amendment, to say that if people believe that don’t want to provide services that are required under the law and under Roe v. Wade, but taken individually decides to not follow the law, the answer to that question is ‘no.’
She repeated that the amendment would allow hospital and emergency room personnel to deny emergency contraception to “a woman who has came who’d been raped.”
“Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. Ah, you don’t want to do that,” Pittmann responded.
Coakley replied: “No we have a separation of church and state, Ken, let’s be clear.”
“In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom,” he replied.
After a short stutter, Coakley commented: “The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”
“Wow,” Pittman remarked.
Her remarks drew sharp criticism from some Catholic leaders.
Political commentator Deal Hudson, writing at the organization Catholic Advocate, said Coakley’s comments on the separation of Church and State were a “dissenting, reflex reaction” that marked the radio conversation’s descent into “the pit of puerile anti-Catholicism.”
“If politicians like Coakley are put in charge of ‘health care reform,’ the day may come when orthodox Catholics will be excluded from any medical services where they might decide not to provide an abortion, prescribe contraception, or euthanize a suffering patient,” Hudson warned.
Noting her position as state attorney general, he continued: “Coakley’s willingness to use her political power against orthodox Catholics serving in the medical profession should be a wake-up call.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, also was critical.
Commenting in a Friday statement, he charged that Coakley was “so completely wedded to the extremists in the pro-abortion community” that she would not allow “Catholic doctors and nurses—who unlike her accept the teachings of Catholicism—to recuse themselves from participating in procedures they find morally repugnant.”
In Donohue’s view, the Senate candidate denied the right to exercise religious liberty objections.
“President Obama says he supports conscience rights for health care workers. The Catholic bishops support conscience rights. Survey after survey show that the American people support conscience rights. But Martha Coakley does not—she says they’re all wrong. Glad to know which side of religious liberty she is on.”