HHS Regs Would Cover All Religious Convictions

Lon Newman

If new HHS regulations are adopted, family planning service providers could be forced to hire people who have moral objections to contraception and would be unable to discipline employees who refuse to provide birth control.

In a classic Grimm brothers’ fairy
tale, the fisherman’s
wishes given to her to gain more riches and greater power, until finally she wishes
to be the ruler of the universe. The fable teaches the consequences
of greed, pride, and it is the ultimate "be careful what you wish
for" allegory.

Reproductive health care advocates and providers have written extensively the last few weeks about proposed HHS "conscience
protection" regulations
— the period for public comment ends this Thursday,
September 25

In Wisconsin,
approximately one-third of all health care organizations are religiously
and many workers sign a contract promising to follow the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care
. A July letter from
the bishops
to members of Congress eagerly embraced the regulations. But the bishops
may have neglected the fact that many workers in Catholic hospitals
and clinics have moral convictions supporting contraceptive care and
reproductive rights and other health care that the church does not sanction
or permit.  

If the regulations are adopted, family
planning service providers, like us, could be forced to hire people who have
moral objections to contraception. We would be unable to discipline
employees who refuse to provide birth control or other services to our patients, central to our
mission.  Employees
of sectarian health care institutions would operate under the same protections.

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For example, clinic employees might refuse to distribute
abstinence-only materials because they are incomplete, inaccurate, and deny a patient’s
right to informed consent.  They might have a moral conviction to explain that
condoms, correctly and consistently used, are a reliable means to prevent unintended
pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections — including HIV transmission to fetuses.

Catholic hospital employees might feel, as a matter of
conscience, that to deny information about emergency contraception to a victim of rape
is morally wrong or that providing pregnancy options information to a high-risk
patient without discussion of termination as well as adoption is willful

Many health professionals in sectarian medical teaching
institutions believe that physicians must be trained in modern contraceptive
methods, sterilization procedures, and how to perform emergency abortions.

Earlier this year, a Colorado
, parallel to these regulations, would have prohibited religion-based
hiring discrimination.  It was loudly
criticized by Denver
Archbishop Chaput
, who said the law would "…greatly hinder
organizations like Catholic Charities from maintaining their mission and
purpose as specifically religious institutions."

The federal regulations proposed
by Secretary Leavitt and supported by the US Conference of Bishops incorporate
moral conviction as well as religious belief and extend to all health
care providers receiving federal funds. Speaking from the point-of-view
of health care providers who understand unintended consequences, here’s
a thought for the bishops and the Bush administration: "Asking for
federal protection for employees who refuse to put patient welfare above
personal belief may be equivalent to the fisherman’s wife wishing
to be the ruler of universe.  By asking to rule everything, they
ended up with nothing and there the fairy tale ends."  

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