Around the middle of February, something quite significant happened, and almost nobody noticed. The Obama administration quietly moved to rescind most of the provisions of the Bush-era “conscience laws” that allowed health care workers to opt out of providing services with which they disagreed on moral or religious grounds.
“Without the rescission of this regulation, we would see tremendous discrimination against patients based on their behavior and based just on who they are,” said Susan Berke Fogel of the National Health Law Program, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC. “We would see real people suffer, and more women could die.”
The new rule is much narrower than the law enacted under the George W. Bush administration and leaves intact only two major provisions of the “conscience laws”:
- legal protections for medical personnel doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations
- a process for allowing health workers whose rights are violated to file complaints
The decision guts one of President George W. Bush’s most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women.
This is one of those areas in which there are no easy answers, and both nuance and context are important, to say nothing of abstract concepts like compassion, conviction and empathy. For instance, if someone truly believes abortion is murder, I don’t think that person should be required to assist with such a procedure, any more than a doctor who is morally opposed to state-sanctioned killing should lose his licence for refusing to administer a lethal injection to a convicted murderer, or a sincere pacifist should be forced to bear arms during wartime.
But in the case—and there have been many in the past two years—where a small town has only one pharmacist, and that person refuses to fill a prescription for emergency contraception or birth control brought to him by a struggling, exhausted young mother who has neither the means nor the ability to drive to the next town…then I think that pharmacist is probably in the wrong profession, and I don’t believe such people should have the protection of the law when they refuse to provide a necessary service. Nor should a doctor be able to legally turn a male patient with AIDS away, simply because he thinks homosexual behavior is a sin. A nurse who is a Jehovah’s Witness should not be legally protected if she is the only skilled person on duty but refuses to assist with a blood transfusion when a patient is bleeding to death on the operating room table.
In my opinion, the right decision in these cases is sort of like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of what constitutes pornography: it’s hard to define, but most of us know it when we see it. And it seems to me that with this new, narrower set of legal specifics and protections, the administration has got it just about right.
- Conscience Trampled by the Regime (liveeternally.wordpress.com)
- HHS Overturns Bush ‘Conscience’ Rule On Abortion (kaiserhealthnews.org)
- Conscience Trampled by the Regime – AlbertMohler.com (craigsturm.wordpress.com)
- “Obama administration overhauls health care conscience clause” and related posts (personalmoneystore.com)
- Obama Administration Quietly Guts Bush-Era ‘Conscience Clause’ For Health Care Workers (alternet.org)
- Obama Administration Rescinds Bush-Era Rule on Health Care Workers and Medical Care They Object To (blogs.abcnews.com)
- U.S. replaces ‘conscience’ rule for health workers (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- A Glimmer of Hope? (sherights.com)
- HHS replaces ‘conscience’ rule for health workers – Washington Post (news.google.com)
- “Obama Admin. Changes Bush ‘Conscience’ Provision for Health Workers” and related posts (christianitytoday.com)