Obama Administration May Rescind “Conscience” Rule

Cristina Page

The Obama administration takes the first step to rescind Bush's midnight regulations that would allow any health care worker to obstruct a woman's access to contraception.

The Obama
administration will rescind Bush’s midnight regulations that would
allow any health care worker to obstruct a woman’s access to
contraception, the Chicago Tribune reports this morning. In its place they will make another rule that clarifies
"what health-care workers can reasonably refuse for patients."

Rachel Maddow celebrates the reversal of Bush’s HHS “provider conscience” regulation.

The Tribune reports that, in an effort to strike "common ground,"
the administration is seeking perspective from "across the ideological
spectrum before it finalizes the rollback." An unnamed official told the
paper, "We believe that this is a complex issue that requires a
thoughtful process where all voices can be heard."

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It would appear the regulation was already beginning to wreak havoc
in the mere two months it’s been in effect. The Tribune reports,

Seven states, including California, Illinois and Connecticut, as well
as two family planning groups, have filed suits challenging the Bush
rule, arguing it sacrifices the health of patients to religious beliefs
of medical providers.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported
cases such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant
because she was denied emergency contraception. In Texas, the group
said, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception
rejected by a pharmacist.

We can expect the pro-lie movement to be at
its finest making its case to the public to retain the refusal
regulation. I predict we’ll hear a lot from them about healthcare
providers being forced to take part in abortion services and that
they’ll fail to mention that by "abortion" they mean "contraception."
What often gets reported as a footnote in news stories is that three
separate laws dating back 30 years already protect health care workers
who refuse to take part in the delivery of abortions services.

The refusal regulation Obama is beginning to rescind today is of
course very different and far more expansive than those laws. Even
Bush’s own officials at the EEOC spoke out against his regulation. The
following is an excerpt from my piece, "Bush, Our Ex-Boyfriend,"
published on the day the regs took effect, inauguration day, literally
in the last minutes of the Bush administration:

HHS regulations were a last minute, hastily executed,
unconstitutionally vague, attempt by Bush to repay his only loyal
constituency left, the religious right wing. The regulations attempt to
expand health care workers right to "consciously object" to the
broadest array of health care services imaginable, basically anything,
even in medical emergencies. They can, in other words, refuse to
provide you medical care, because it offends them! It opens the door to
many patient abuses, shreds state laws and contradicts federal
discrimination statutes. Healthcare workers would be able to withhold
information from a patient about healthcare options without the patient
even knowing that any information is being withheld. Patients can be
refused referrals if the healthcare worker objects to the care they’re
seeking somewhere else.

And here is one particularly bizarre twist. The regulations specify
that workers don’t have to inform their employers of the service or
services they object to before hand. It’s also unclear the extent to
which employers have the right to ask job applicants about their
willingness to take part in the services they provide. Thus, imagine
the situation in which an anti-choice person applies for a position at
Planned Parenthood. The employer couldn’t ascertain that she’s against
abortion, nor could it fire her when she refused to have anything to do
with it.

But the regulations’ real intent (revealed in a draft version of the
proposal leaked this summer) is perhaps worse: to allow those who want
to obstruct a woman’s access to birth control full license. Keep in
mind, there is already ample protection for those who do not wish to
take part in abortion services, three laws in fact. The right to refuse
to take part in abortion services has existed for over 30 years. Here’s
the thrust of the new regulations (in my own words), "If you’d like to
consider contraception an abortion method and refuse to take part,
please do, but also feel free to object to contraception, or any other
health care service, for any reason you can dream up. The only thing
limiting your right to refuse is your own imagination." Your conscience
is yours. Use it how you want. Even if it infringes on the conscience
of others.

There will be a 30-day comment period about the
rescinding of the regulation. Rewire will post information
about how to comment so please check back soon.

The Obama
Administration promises to listen to all perspectives–one of the
clearest hallmarks of how different an administration this is from the
last. But as a result, we can’t assume administration officials
understand all the problems with the original regulations. That’s why
we must speak up as clearly now as we did before. We know for sure
opponents of birth control will.

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