The Facts on the Conscience Rule

Kristin Williams

Let's get the facts straight: revisiting the Bush "conscience clause" rule does not mean that providers who object to performing abortions will have to provide them.

It’s being reported that
President Obama will revoke a midnight-hour Bush administration Health
and Human Services rule change. The so-called "conscience clause" is a
federal protection (issued in December and implemented in January) to health-care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

One of many problems with this poorly-written "conscience clause" is
confusion about its scope: the vagueness of the rule could lead it to
limiting everything from HIV tests to blood transfusions to emergency contraception for rape victims

Problems with the rule change had already begun cropping up. Two alarming examples from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology:

In one, a Virginia mother of two became pregnant because she was
denied emergency contraception. In another, a rape victim in Texas had
her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist.

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While right-wing ideologues are claiming this a rabid pro-choice move, we beg to differ.

First of all, revisiting the Bush "conscience clause" rule does NOT
mean that providers who object to performing abortions will have to
provide them. No provider will have to perform abortions against their
will. There is a 30-year history of legislation (three separate laws in fact) that protects such providers. (Someone needs to tell FRC,
since Tony Perkins thinks "…President Obama is planning to bow down
to pro-abortion forces [to] stop enforcement of laws enacted to protect
the choice of healthcare providers not to participate in abortion.")

The "conscience clause" is not only vague and potentially harmful to patients, but it also undermines the goal of reducing abortions because it potentially blocks women’s access to services like birth control. Consider: 98%
of women of child-bearing age, who have ever had sexual intercourse,
have used some form of contraception. Obviously, contraception is key
to preventing unintended pregnancies. Preventing access to
contraception runs counter to the Obama administration’s clearly stated
goal of preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing abortions.

Also important to note: HHS is holding a 30-day comment period, open
to the public. The Obama Administration is concerned about the
consequences of the scope of the Bush "conscience clause," but they
also understand the need to clarify the existing rules and want to
fully understand and address the concerns of providers.

This post first appeared on Faith in the Public Life’s blog.

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