Religious Voices Weigh in on Conscience

Kristin Williams

While some religious groups do oppose rescinding the conscience rule, many support it because of their concern that it could be harmful to health care and counter-productive to efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies.

Today marks the end of the 30-day comment period on President Obama’s
proposal to rescind the "conscience clause" implemented in the final
days of the Bush presidency. There’s been a lot of misinformation
about what Obama’s proposal mean, particularly when it comes to conscience
protections for abortion. Some
groups have falsely alleged that rescinding the "conscience clause"
will force doctors to perform abortions against their will. In fact, current
underlying laws protect such providers and these conscience protections will
remain in place. Rescinding the "conscience clause," which was
implemented by the outgoing Bush administration on January 20, 2009, simply
returns conscience protections to the way they were less than three months ago
— the same way they were under President Bush for eight years and prior.

While some religious groups do oppose the rescission, many support it
because of their concern that it is overly broad and vague and could be harmful
to health care and counter-productive to efforts to reduce unintended
pregnancies and, in turn, the number of abortions.

From the United
Methodist Church:


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The Provider Refusal Law already ensures that health-care providers do not have
to provide abortion and sterilization services if doing so contradicts their
religious or moral beliefs.

…[President Bush] extended it beyond abortion and sterilization to
contraception, fertility treatments, end-of-life care, and many other
health-care services. By limiting access to birth control, the expansion of the
conscience clause actually hurts efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and
reduce the need for abortion.

…The federal statues already in effect were clear and have proved
themselves useful over nearly three decades. A change was not needed to ensure
greater awareness and enforcement. Instead, the last-minute expansion brought
confusion rather than clarity, imposed unnecessary certification restrictions
on economically strapped health-care institutions, and left millions of
low-income patients vulnerable to being denied essential health-care services.

Broadening of "The Provider Refusal Rule" undermined the ability
of organizations to guarantee that they will provide comprehensive health
services. Disruption of that guarantee puts patients’ health at risk. The
United Methodist Church cannot support denial of what it considers a basic
human right, nor can it endorse any government action that puts the most
vulnerable in our society more at risk.

From the United
Church of Christ

Care provider exemption provisions already exist in HHS
regulations…The Bush "conscience clause" obscures this obligation,
raising questions about whether it could limit everything from HIV tests to
blood transfusions to emergency contraception for rape victims.

…Critics charge that the Bush regulations could increase unplanned
pregnancies, for instance, if a provider is morally opposed to contraception
and does not refer the patient.

…The Rev. Loey M. Powell, co-team leader of the Cleveland Based Program
Team in Justice and Witness Ministries, noted that the UCC supports the
rescinding of the conscience clause as an extension of health care rights.

From the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Catholics for Choice,
Disciples for Choice, Disciples Justice Action Network, Equal Partners in
Faith, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, The Jewish
Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, National
Council of Jewish Women, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Union for
Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, United
Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society,
Women of Reform Judaism:

Virtually all American women–98 percent–use a contraceptive at some point in
their lives. And the vast majority of Americans–including people of
faith–support universal access to birth control and accurate contraceptive
information. The refusal regulation imposes dangerous obstacles to women’s
access to reproductive health care and inaccurately does so in the name of
religious liberty. We strongly support the accommodation of employees’
religious beliefs in the workplace, but a woman, regardless of her income, age,
religion, race, or geographic location must have access to the health care
services she needs, including the full range of contraceptive options and

Our faiths motivate us to speak out for comprehensive health care, including
reproductive health care, for women, children, and families around our country
– many of whom are part of our faith communities.

It’s also worth noting that religious
leaders from
across the ideological spectrum who disagree on rescinding the
rule — from Richard Land to David Saperstein — have found some common ground:

While some of us would urge the Department of Health and
Human Services…to retain the "Regulation" promulgated at the end of
last year…and others of us would urge the Department to rescind it, in whole
or in part, we agree that the conscience protections for healthcare providers
contained in Federal statutory law since 1973 provide appropriate and
much-needed protection for institutional and individual healthcare providers
who object to performing certain procedures, such as abortion or sterilization.

The group is calling for the Obama administration to "be much more
specific about what kind of exemptions religious health care workers should be
entitled to when it comes to tasks they morally oppose."

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