HHS Ready to Implement New Rule on Physician Conscience

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 18, 2008

The Bush administration is poised to “grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds,” despite the fact the rule change has provoked a “torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job discrimination laws,” writes Robert Pear in The New York Times.

It’s not just access to reproductive health services that will be affected. Once the new Health and Human services rule is implemented, it would would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” that receives funding from HHS.

Opposition has been intense — the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, 28 senators, more than 110 representatives and the attorneys general of 13 states are against the rule, according to the Times.

Officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — including its legal counsel, who was appointed by Bush — also are against it. Still, it’s clear the Bush administration is hell-bent on pushing through the rule, despite critics’ warnings that it would upset decades of court decisions that had weighed “employees’ rights to religious freedom and employers’ business needs.”

The “provider conscience” rule has missed the deadline by which new regulations are supposed to be issued, but the White House can waive the deadline “in extraordinary circumstances.” The Times notes that the White House was “unable to say immediately why an exception might be justified in this case.”

It seems clear, however, once you look at who’s supporting the rule — social conservatives, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been pushing the administration to take a stronger stand against abortion and contraception.

Rachel previously wrote about the dangers of this HHS rule. We’ll be keeping an eye on updates to the situation. Birth Control Watch and RH Reality Check are also good places to check in with for background and the latest news.

One silver lining is that aides to President-elect Barack Obama said he would try to rescind the law upon taking office, though the process could take three to six months.

During that time, rape victims may no longer learn about emergency contraception and Medicaid recipients could be denied certain prescriptions — all because Bush couldn’t resist playing politics with women’s health.

Comments are closed.