WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2008 ( – Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt today expressed disappointment in a new policy put forth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ( ACOG ) which mandates that doctors refer for abortions. He also called on the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology ( ABOG ) to reject this policy and protect the conscience rights of physicians.

In a letter sent to ABOG Executive Director Dr. Norman Grant today asking for clarification, Secretary Leavitt notes, “It appears that the interaction of the [ABOG Bulletin for 2008 Maintenance of Certification] with the ACOG ethics report would force physicians to violate their conscience by referring patients for abortions or taking other objectionable actions, or risk losing their board certification.”

In particular, the Secretary expressed concern that enforcement of this ACOG policy by certain federally-funded entities would violate federal laws against discrimination.

Secretary Leavitt continues, “As you know, Congress has protected the rights of physicians and other health care professionals by passing two non-discrimination laws and annually renewing an appropriations rider that protect the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds.”

“I am concerned that the actions taken by ACOG and ABOG could result in the denial or revocation of Board certification of a physician who – but for his or her refusal, for example, to refer a patient for an abortion – would be certified,” he wrote. 

The letter concluded: “In the hope that compliance of entities with the obligations that accompany certain federal funds will not be jeopardized, it would be helpful if you could clarify that ABOG will not rely on the ACOG Ethics Committee Report, “The Limits of Conscience Refusal in Reproductive Medicine” when making determinations of whether to grant or revoke board certifications.”