Open Blog: Postings are the opinion of the essayist.
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FCLNY recognizes that within the community of subscribers to the consistent life ethic there is a diversity of views as to how this ethic might be implemented in culture, philosophy and law. Not all views necessarily hinge on FCLNY’s opposition to publicly-sanctioned lethal violence. Some may expand that view. Others may narrow that view.
Our open blog allows FCLNY supporters and guest essayists to explore these differences in order to achieve greater understanding between peers and within our communities.
Author wishes to remain anonymous
“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s dual focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.” (Read the Code of Ethics, n.d.)
One core tenet of the Social Work profession is to allow for the self-determination of the individual – to allow those served to come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions, while the Social Worker acts as a guide to resources and support to facilitate whichever path is taken within the confines of the law.
There’s great beauty in this idea. There’s great beauty in regenerative responses to social problems. The kind of response that connects the struggling with positive community, group accountability, resources and aid, and seeks to understand the causes, whether personal, systemic, or both in tandem, that lead to the maintenance of destructive behaviors.
This ideal is what attracted me to social work. I was excited to improve lives, be a support for those in struggle, design and implement programs that promote the same, and understand the root causes in our attitudes, ideology, and systems that perpetuates the cycles of poverty and self-destructive behavior.
As I made my applications to Social Work programs, however, I came across a glaring contradiction in the social work code of ethics, as it was proposed by the major organizations in the field.
The Mainstream View
“NASW remains resolute in our commitment to protect reproductive rights and freedoms. NASW affirms all individuals have a right to bodily autonomy, that abortion is health care, and that all individuals have the right to freedom of choice in accessing essential health care services, especially their reproductive health.” (Reproductive Rights are Human Rights, 2022)
The National Association of Social Workers, the largest professional body of Social Work in the United States, issued a strong response to the overturn of Roe vs Wade. The Council of Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits university programs and influences state licensure exams and requirements, echoed this sentiment.
It’s great that the NASW stands up for reproductive rights. Unfortunately, they’re too narrow in scope. They’ve failed to make a commitment to the reproductive rights of the fetal human; a commitment to the right to be reproduced. They’ve failed to make a commitment to the fetal human’s bodily autonomy. They’ve failed to consider the right of self-determination to the fetal human.
I understand their approach. A woman’s pregnancy is a sensitive, vulnerable time. Many different circumstances add progressive weight to the situation. The burdens, risks, and dangers of pregnancy, by biological necessity, fall more on women. Killing the fetal human, from a purely economic standpoint, will greatly improve the woman’s economic mobility while decreasing her burdens, and allow for greater independence. And the intertwining of the life of the fetus and the mother makes for a more complex situation than if they were biologically separate.
Yet none of this will ever possibly overrule the right of an innocent human to live.
This isn’t the way the Social Work licensing bodies see the matter. For them, a woman’s choice to abort her child is something left to self-determination, and a Social Worker is required by law and ethical code to submit to that requirement, especially if they work for an organization that receives state-funded grants.
This was a major limitation for my ability to pursue Social Work, since so many human services positions, even those not at pregnancy centers or domestic abuse shelters, have a strong possibility of eventually having one faced with a woman seeking an abortion, and then being under legal requirement to provide her information about her (presently legal) option to have one. This can extend as far as referring her to a clinic and transporting her for the performed services. Such a thing was unacceptable for me to do.
I was fortunate to consult with faculty and admissions staff at several different programs on this issue. They commonly asked whether it would be acceptable for me to simply refer a client seeking an abortion to another social worker, as this would keep me within the requirements of the law. This, however, wasn’t a viable solution – finding a proxy whom I knew would proceed to do what I was originally supposed to do at my behest doesn’t get me off the hook. Referring them to someone else for abortion referrals validates the decision of abortion, even if I’m not the one doing the talking.
When it came down to it, I decided it simply didn’t make sense to pursue social work anymore, seeing as these restrictions would be common in many positions, severely limiting my own professional opportunities.
My career search is ongoing, but the issue is so central to any field of human services and healthcare that it won’t be the last time I will brush up against this. There are federal protections in place for direct healthcare workers, but no such ones for the many indirect human service and administrative staff that also play a role (Office of Civil Rights, 2023).
As we approach the possibility of having medically assisted suicide legalized in New York, such issues will extend to any place that touches on this. Will therapists be legally mandated to refer their client for suicide assistance? Will social work staff in nursing homes, assisted living centers, centers for those with developmental disabilities, and other vulnerable populations be required to do the same?
These laws, besides being unethical and destructive, create substantial limits for the employment of, frankly speaking, most religious persons, plus any secular persons who are skeptical of the ethical viability of assisted suicide. We risk losing devoted employees in civil service, non-profit, and healthcare positions who bring important skills and perspectives by creating legal mandates for conscientious objectors to provide, refer for, and facilitate both abortions and assisted suicides.
A Way Forward
“Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients’ right to self-determination when, in the social workers’ professional judgment, clients’ actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.” (Read the Code of Ethics, n.d.)
The good news is that anti-abortion measures are already written into the NASW code of ethics. A woman with serious intention to seek an abortion, or the man who impregnated her making an effort to have her do the same, should come under the Social Worker’s professional obligation to limit their client’s “right to self-determination” due to the imminent threat to the fetal human.
The social worker already does this in the case of, say, a client speaking of serious plans to cause harm to another adult person, or subjecting their children to abuse. If the social work profession understands its duty to protect the fetal life just as well, this authority can be extended to threats of abortion.
This highlights that key point that we must make understood in the Social Work profession, upon which the mistake of pro-choice advocates rests: that a Being becomes a Being at the joining of sperm and egg, and so we have responsibility to extend the treatment we give to out-of-womb beings to it as well. This does complicate matters for the pregnant woman and her partner, this is no doubt true, and resources and support must be readily available in the absence of abortion access. The recognition of human personhood beginning at conception, alongside the necessity of universal support for both the fetus and the mother, is essential for the Social Work field to truly encompass its ideals.
Office for Civil Rights. (2023, January 10). Conscience and Religious Nondiscrimination. HHS.gov. https://www.hhs.gov/conscience/conscience-protections/index.html
Read the Code of Ethics. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English
Reproductive Rights are Human Rights. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. (2022). https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Policy-Issues/Reproductive-Rights-Are-Human-Rights