CNN Reruns Year-Old Interviews on the Problem of Pro-Life Doctors

On Tuesday night’s Campbell Brown show, CNN raised liberal worries about the Bush administration’s plan in the final days to broaden the conscience clause for medical professionals who object to performing abortion and sterilization procedures. But Randi Kaye’s report questioning a Catholic doctor in Virginia for daring to refuse to provide "care" (translation: abortion or contraceptives) to female patients was most notable for its lack of timeliness: the interviews are now more than a year old, first appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 on November 26, 2007. CNN did not disclose to viewers that its story was largely a rerun.

There’s a reason this story sticks out in my mind (twice): the doctor interviewed, Scott Ross, is my family physician and a fellow parishioner at my church. The two stories are mostly the same (with some Bush updates), featuring the same pseudonymous "Melissa" complaining about her Catholic doctor (not Dr. Ross, but a doctor who’s not identified) refusing her "care" as Kaye sympathetically interviewed her, while Dr. Ross is pressed about whether he’s improperly judging his patients and denying them their "health care," even if they were raped and want an abortifacient pill. From Tuesday:

CAMPBELL BROWN: In his final days in office, President Bush [is] planning to expand controversial rules allowing health care workers to refuse to do medical procedures on moral and religious grounds. According to The Los Angeles Times, workers could refuse to give out information about things like abortion, birth control, even artificial insemination. Randi Kaye met one patient who went to her doctor and got some information she didn't want.

RANDI KAYE (voice-over): Last year, this 24-year-old from Texas asked her doctor for birth control pills, and got an earful.

‘MELISSA’: He told me that he didn't believe in prescribing birth control. He thought it was morally wrong, that I shouldn't be having sex, and he launched into a lecture about, you know, ethically, you know, how I need to rethink things.

KAYE: She doesn't want to share her doctor's name or her own, so we will call her 'Melissa.' She told us her doctor was Catholic.

‘MELISSA’: I have no problem with the doctor being a practicing religious person, but they do not have a right to impose that on their patients.

KAYE (on-camera): Yet more and more patients are getting a dose of religion in the exam room. Some doctors are rejecting patients whose demands throw their moral compass off course. And now in its dying days, the Bush administration plans to push through new rules allowing doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, and other health care workers to refuse to take part in any procedure they find morally objectionable.

KAYE (voice-over): In a study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, 63 percent of the doctors surveyed said it was okay to voice their moral objections to patients.

Dr. SCOTT ROSS: The struggle is always there --

KAYE: Dr. Scott Ross, a Catholic family physician in Virginia, believes contraception interferes with God's plan to breathe life into us, so he doesn't prescribe birth control.

KAYE (on-camera): So if someone came to you today and said they would like contraception or the morning-after pill, what do you tell them?

ROSS: I'm very frank with them and say that's something that I don't -- don't do. It's not part of my practice.

KAYE (voice-over): Dr. Ross says he has denied contraception to patients.

KAYE: Do you ever feel as though you're playing the role of judge, too?


KAYE: But when you're denying someone something that they're requesting, aren't you making a judgment on whether or not they should have that care?

ROSS: I don't know that I'm making a judgment on whether or not they should have the care. It's just the judgment of I can't provide that care.

KAYE: Melissa didn't see it that way with her doctor.

KAYE (on-camera): Did you feel as if he was judging you?

‘MELISSA’: Yes -- yeah, I really did. I felt as though he was accusing me of being immoral, and trying to impose his values on me.

KAYE: The Health and Human Services Department plans to get this new right of conscience rule in place before Barack Obama takes office. Procedures like abortion and artificial insemination could be refused if morally objectionable -- also birth control. It's estimated nearly 5,000 hospitals and more than 200,000 doctors would be covered under this new regulation.

In a statement, the American Medical Association said, "While we support the legitimate conscience rights of individual health care professionals, the exercise of these rights must be balanced against the fundamental obligations of the medical profession. We strongly support patients’ access to comprehensive reproductive health care." Some doctors have even said no in the name of God, to women who have been raped.

KAYE (to Ross): Is it right, do you think, to deny a woman who has been raped emergency contraception, when time is so limited to actually treat that?

ROSS: You know, our goal is to provide excellent medical care for all of the patients that we encounter.

KAYE: But does that sit okay with you?

ROSS: That sits okay with me.

KAYE: How is it okay to deny her that care?

ROSS: I think we as physicians have right to uphold our own moral grounds, and we don't have to do everything that's asked of us.

KAYE (voice-over): Loyalty to a higher power or loyalty to medicine -- can doctors really have both?

The 2007 segment had the same God-or-medicine ending, but it contained one more soundbite of 'Melissa' agreeing with the CNN reporter’s suggestion that pro-life doctors should not be allowed to practice medicine:

KAYE: What should they do? Should they not practice?

'MELISSA': If their religious beliefs are in unreasonable conflict with their obligations to a patient, then yes, I think they shouldn't practice.

KAYE: Today, Melissa has a new doctor and the prescription she wanted. Yet, women are still being left in the lurch. Eight states have laws giving doctors the legal right to reject treatment if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Refusal clauses are quietly becoming law and allow health care providers more leeway to refuse a larger variety of treatments. Four states are considering legislation that would let doctors refuse absolutely any treatment if it conflicts with their faith.

The 2007 segment was accompanied by these obnoxious anti-religious sentences from Anderson Cooper:

Coming up tonight, a question: Is it OK for doctors to refuse treatment to you because of a moral disagreement? The case we're talking about is a woman who was raped, then refused emergency contraception, because the doctor thought that was morally wrong. Doctors playing judge and priest. We're digging deeper next...


This next story may make you wonder just whose side your doctor is really on.

Part of the oath that all doctors take is to do no harm. But a growing number of patients across the country are reporting that they are being harmed by doctors who seem to be acting more like judges. These patients, mostly women, are being denied birth control and other contraceptive treatments. Why? Because of their doctors' religious beliefs.

Cooper didn't see how it seems odd to pro-lifers to suggest that abortions or abortifacient pills are "doing no harm" to an unborn child.


Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis