HHS Overturns Bush 'Conscience' Rule For Workers Opposing Abortion

The New York Time: A Bush Rule On Providers Of Abortions Is Revised
The Obama administration on Friday rescinded most of a 2008 rule that granted sweeping protections to health care providers who opposed abortion, sterilization and other medical procedures on religious or moral grounds. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the rule, issued in the last days of the Bush administration, could "negatively impact patient access to contraception and certain other medical services." Federal laws make clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion, Ms. Sebelius said. The Bush rule went far beyond these laws and upset the balance between patients' rights to obtain health care and "the conscience rights of health care providers," she added (Pear, 2/18).

NPR: New Contraception Rules Spark 'Conscience Clause' Debate
The Bush rules allowed not just health workers but hospitals and even entire insurance companies to decline to provide abortions or any other service that violate a "religious belief or moral conviction." The Obama administration's version of the rules, however, which come after consideration of more than 300,000 public comments, take a more narrow approach. "There is no indication that the federal health care provider conscience statutes intended that the term 'abortion' included contraception," the new rules say (Rovner, 2/18).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Replaces Controversial 'Conscience' Regulation For Health-Care Workers
The decision guts one of President George W. Bush's most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women. Friday's move was seen as an important step in countering that trend, which in recent years had led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian's request for infertility treatment, and an ambulance driver in Chicago to turn away a woman who needed transportation for an abortion. ... Friday's decision was condemned by proponents of stronger protections, who say doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other workers regularly face discrimination, firing and other punitive measures because of their deeply held convictions (Stein, 2/18).

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