Obama to Rescind Conscience Protections

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

The Obama administration has announced plans to rescind President Bush’s recently enacted job protections for health care workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable for reasons of conscience. Even though the administration made the announcement quietly, a political fire storm has already erupted over the plans.

“For President Obama to do this would be a huge blow to religious freedom and First Amendment rights,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “No one should be forced to have an abortion, and no one should be forced to be an abortionist in violation of their religious or ethical convictions.”

The fury centers around a Bush administration regulation, enacted in December, that cuts off federal funding for thousands of state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities if they do not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other employees who refuse to participate in care they feel violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

Even though federal law has long forbidden discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform abortions or provide referrals for them, these laws were not being uniformly enforced. As a result, an increasing number of cases have been erupting across the U.S. where health care workers are being fired or intimidated for refusing to participate in services that violate their religious beliefs. The Bush regulations were aimed at clarifying federal policies and raising awareness about the rights of medical providers to follow their consciences.

Abortion rights advocates say the new rules are too vaguely written and could result in situations such as drug store clerks refusing to sell birth control pills or health care workers refusing to participate in fertility treatments. After reviewing the regulation, newly appointed officials at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) agreed.

“We’ve been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written, it could make it harder for women to get the care they need,” said the official, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity for the same reason. “It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family-planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care.”

Administration officials stressed that the president remains committed to protecting the rights of health-care workers who do not want to participate in abortions; such rights have been guaranteed for decades by several federal laws.

“We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. We want to ensure that current law protects them,” the HHS official said. “But the Bush rule goes beyond current law and seems to have upset the balance.”

The administration is open to a new rule that would be more focused on abortion, the official said, adding, “We believe that this is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful process where all voices are heard.”

The administration will publish notice of its intentions early next week, and open a 30-day comment period for advocates, medical groups and the public. It promises to review comments from the public before making a final decision. Options range from simply repealing the regulation to writing a new one with a narrower scope.

Pro-life advocates remain determined to fight this latest attack by the Obama Administration on human life.

“I’m tired of President Obama’s ‘Choice for me, but not for thee’ hypocrisy,” said Father Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International (HLI). “His audacity is not of hope, but of the destruction of freedom and human life!”

The Church has always been a staunch supporter of the conscience rights of health care workers.

“The conflict between social pressure and the demands of conscience can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning the medical profession or of compromising one’s convictions,” Pope John Paul II said in 2001. “There is a middle path . . . It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be respected by all, especially legislators.”

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