The Obama administration has changed a George W. Bush provision that was created to allow health workers to opt out of services they find objectionable on religious grounds, Rob Stein of the Washington Postreports. The change maintains the provision that allows workers to refrain from performing abortions.
The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women.
Calling the Bush-era rule "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope," the new, much narrower version essentially leaves in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the Bush rule's formal process for workers to file complaints.
President Bush had announced the provision, supported by the Christian Medical Association (CMA), just before leaving office. Before he took office, Obama had expressed objections to the provision.
The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement:
The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. Strong conscience laws make it clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion. Many of these strong conscience laws have been in existence for more than 30 years. The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process.
Dr. J. Scott Ries, CMA's vice president, said in a statement that the decision "threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care."
The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification. The administration presented no evidence of any problems in healthcare access, prescriptions or procedures that have occurred in the two years since the original regulation's enactment that would justify any change in this protective regulation.
The executive order puts the burden back on Congress to enact conscience provisions for health care workers. HR 358, the Protect Life Act, (see Tuesday's post) includes language identical to that found in Bush's executive order.
The House is expected to vote today on whether Planned Parenthood should receive federal funds. CT will be posting a story on evangelicals' attitudes towards the federal budget shortly.
(This post has been updated at 1:30 p.m.)