OMB Approves HHS Refusal Clause, Last Stop Before Publication

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OMB Approves HHS Refusal Clause, Last Stop Before Publication

Scott Swenson

OMB approves refusal clause rule, last stop before publication in the Federal Register. Sec. Michael Leavitt's consolation prize to the far-right is just about done.

As regular readers of Rewire are well aware, HHS continues its plodding path toward undermining the conscience rights of millions of Americans seeking health care services by giving medical professionals, licensed by the state, the right to refuse service based on their own personal beliefs.  The Office of Management and Budget has approved the "refusal clause" leaving only the final step in the long rule-making process, publication in the Federal Register. (Click here to see the approved rule.  Choose "Department of Health and Human Services" in the second pop-up list box, then scroll to the bottom of the screen that follows.)

Timing of publication remains uncertain, but we know it will happen soon — there are, after all, only 34 days left in the Bush Administration.

For anyone just catching up on this far-right social conservative effort to take away your rights to legal health care, here’s a primer: the refusal clause could allow a health care professional who believes that contraception is the same thing as abortion to refuse to give a woman who was raped emergency contraception; a person who does not believe in blood tranfusions could refuse to participate in necessary emergency care, and the list of horrific examples goes on.

Never once in the months of debate on this — on Secretary Michael Leavitt’s blog, in the media, or in the responses from HHS to 325,000 petition signatures filed in opposition and more than 200,000 public comments questioning the measure, has the simplest of questions ever been answered.

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If these health care professionals want the right to refuse patients the care they need, often in emergency situations, why did they get into health care or urgent care in the first place? People go to medical professionals to get health care, they go to places of worship for sermons and moral training. Patient care should be the focus of all medical care professionals, period.

Arguing religious freedom is moot, because even Catholic teaching on the subject of conscience clauses says that when there is a conflict between the medical provider and patient, the patient’s conscience is the one that should be respected because they rely on the state licensed professional for the care they need. This one is not a close call.

Perhaps the most amusing part of this is that people at HHS  concocted this scheme because they thought it would help the GOP rally the base in the fall campaign. I guess we can look at this as one more bit of evidence of just how far out of touch the far-right is with the reality of Americans’ lives. Instead of helping McCain and Company, the ideologues that have packed HHS during the Bush years have this one final consolation prize for the far-right.

Efforts are already underway to make legal or legislative challenges to this draconian rule.