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New Health Regulation Permits ‘Conscience’ Exceptions

Washington – A new federal regulation will allow healthcare workers to abstain from performing abortions or any service they object to on religious or moral grounds.
The regulation, introduced Thursday (Dec. 18) by the Department of Health and Human Services, is directed primarily at shielding those with religious or moral objections to abortion or sterilization. But its scope could be much wider, including those opposed to assisted suicide, sex change operations or even vaccinations and family planning.
The rule says healthcare workers cannot be discriminated against for refusing to participate in objectionable procedures. The definition of workers is defined broadly, to include volunteers as well as janitors and others not directly engaged in the procedures.
The regulation goes into effect in 30 days, just before the end of the Bush White House. It can be overturned by the incoming Obama administration, and some lawmakers are already taking steps to change it through legislation.
Healthcare service providers could lose federal funds for violating the rule, but HHS officials stress the department will assist entities that are deemed non-compliant before considering legal options.
HHS officials said the 127-page regulation — which will cost about
$44 million to implement — is designed to alleviate a trend of isolation and exclusion of people of faith from the healthcare industry.
“Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.”
Liberal groups suggested the new regulation willl undermine religious diversity, and place the doctors’ views above the patients’.
“Using the guise of protecting the conscience of healthcare providers, this regulation … denies women the right to follow their conscience and make decisions according to their religious and moral beliefs,” said the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a statement.
It drew quick praise from religious conservatives, who had sought relief against being punished for not performing abortions.
“No one should be forced to have an abortion, and no one should be forced to be an abortionist,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a statement. “These regulations will ensure that conscience protection statutes will be strongly enforced by the government in the same manner as our other civil rights laws.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also praised the regulation, saying that “Catholic health care providers will especially welcome this mark of respect for the excellent life-affirming care they provide to all in need.”
The regulation cited concerns that healthcare workers might use religious or moral beliefs to mask objections to treating certain patients, including those with HIV and AIDS. The report disagreed with the hypothetical concerns, noting health care provider conscience protection provisions have been in place for decades, and Thursday’s rule implements existing requirements.
By Matthew E. Berger
Religion News Service
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • nnmns

    I think they need to document anyone being forced to perform an abortion or anyone even trying to force someone to perform one. I’m betting they can’t.
    But now right wing pharmacists will be able to force women and families to travel farther, maybe a long way, for services they need including contraceptives. If someone doesn’t want to dispense contraceptives they should either not be a pharmacist or work for a Catholic hospital. It’s the patient whose needs come first.

  • Tom

    Given the current information age and the number of pharmacies in most cities, one would probably be able to find a pharmacy dispensing contraceptives without going too far.
    The conscience clause was implemented in anticipation of FOCA being passed, which could possibly give a woman the ‘right’ to an ’emergency’ abortion.

  • Henrietta22

    This will be undone when Obama is President. The wheels are turning as I type.
    There are many tiny towns throughout America, Tom, and those people will be very affected.

  • Nate W

    Freedom of conscience is the most basic freedom we have. It’s good to know that there are politicians out there who have the basic decency to try to protect it.

  • nnmns

    “Freedom of conscience is the most basic freedom we have.”
    Freedom to think? Freedom to speak? Freedom to worship or not worship as we see fit? Somehow freedom to not sell someone who needs them contraceptives didn’t make it into the constitution.

  • Husband

    A question for you right-wingers and ‘freedom of conscience’ folk …
    should a staunch Catholic employer be able to refuse to give health care benefits that would cover the spouse of a divorced and re-married employee? After all, the employee is not ‘really’ “married” in the eyes of the employer?
    Have any of you ever contemplated that ‘Abortion 101′ is not a requisite course for any medical practitioner? Anyone for whom abortion goes against their conscience probably never studied how to perform them in the first place.
    I wonder how many and which other legal services can/will be withheld due to the ‘conscience’ of the provider?
    Why do you/they not realize that you/they are imposing your/their religious beliefs on those who do not share them?
    If you believe that abortions, birth control, gay marriage are wrong, then do not have one. Obviously these things are not “wrong” for those requesting them. Why do you get to decide for other people and force them to abide by your tenets?
    sheesh already.

  • Nate W

    Freedom to think, speak, and worship or not worship are elements of freedom of conscience, nnmns. The freedom to have one’s thoughts, speech, and worship or refusal to worship actually MEAN something–i.e., to practice what one preaches–can’t be totally separated from them, or else the freedoms of thought, speech, and worship are just “opiates of the masses,” something that distracts us from the fact that in reality we have no meaningful freedom at all.
    There’s no right to contraception in the Constitution, either. Neither is there a right to obtain whatever whatever sorts of drugs or medical procedures one desires, at least not in a positive form, as that would imply that other citizens have a duty to to provide those services even if they don’t want to. And that’s the beautiful thing about our Constitution–it concerns itself mainly with negative rights, with placing limits on our actions and the government’s actions, and not with positive rights. And rightfully so. If there wasn’t a single doctor in this whole country who wanted to provide contraceptives, abortions, or even just a bottle of aspirin, they have a sacred right not to be forced to do so, and no illusory “positive right” of the patients can or should overrule that.
    As I said, freedom of conscience is the most sacred freedom of all. Nothing else matters if we are forced to deny who we are and to act contrary to our deepest convictions.

  • Nate W

    “should a staunch Catholic employer be able to refuse to give health care benefits that would cover the spouse of a divorced and re-married employee?”
    As long as that’s made clear up front, I don’t see why not.
    “Why do you/they not realize that you/they are imposing your/their religious beliefs on those who do not share them?”
    Because they’re not, at least not in anything even remotely similar to the way others would be imposing on them by demanding certain services that violate their consciences. They wouldn’t be “imposing” anything by opting out of performing a voluntary service. A chef wouldn’t be “imposing” his culinary taste on you by refusing to make you a certain dish at his restaurant, and neither is any other service provide imposing on others when they likewise object to certain services. Imposing one’s beliefs would be requiring someone to act against their deepest covictions or else lose their livelihood and their freedom to care for the needs of others in a way that they see fit.
    “If you believe that abortions, birth control, gay marriage are wrong, then do not have one.”
    I’ve got no problem with that, as long as you don’t force people to hand out contraception (and I’ve got absolutely no problem with birth control myself), perform abortions, or marry gay couples.
    “Why do you get to decide for other people and force them to abide by your tenets?”
    Because if we’re the ones being forced to participate in an act we find wicked, then we have a basic human right to opt out of that. That’s all we’re asking, is to not be forced to be involved in actions that violate our consciences.

  • Dave G

    I was not aware that large numbers of medical people were, prior to this new regulation, losing their jobs because they refused to perform abortions. It’s amazing to me how someone can claim the high moral ground while refusing health care to those in need.

  • Confessoressa

    Does a Mormon doctor now get to opt out of performing blood transfusions?
    The right of conscious remains intact when you are required to perform an action by law.

  • Confessoressa

    Whoops, I meant Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  • nnmns

    It’s a “problem” we never heard of till anti-abortion strategists decided they might be able to use it to take away our right to abortions over time. And with a lot of luck our right to contraceptives, which a lot of them don’t much care for either.

  • Dave G

    What if I’m a doctor who believes that God takes people in His own time, and that keeping them alive on tubes and a machine prevents God’s will. Can I refuse to treat that patient?

  • m

    OK, we all think that people should be able to follow their conscience without getting fired. And, every good conservative also believes in free enterprise. So, a vendor can sell any goods and services that are legal.
    If a vendor has an employee who does not want to sell certain goods and services, the vendor now cannot fire that employee. Following the logic of free enterprise (which good conservatives always do), the vendor can either not sell the service, thus reducing his competitiveness because of “government intrusion”, or he can increase staff in order to keep providing service. This, of course, will increase his expenses, again making him less competitive due to “government intrusion”.
    And these are the same people who fought so vigorously against the minimum wage increase because it would hurt businesses?

  • methodistsearching

    this new comment posting service is infuriating. those last 2 posts were from me. Didn’t intend the duplicates.

  • pagansister

    I don’t think that doctors can be forced to perform an abortion now, however the extention of this “conscience” law is, if applied to pharmacists who think birth control pills, or IUDs, or morning after pills etc. are “wrong by his/her religious standards” could result in more unwanted pregnancies. This has been pushed to serve the RR and other conservatives to interfer with a woman’s right to choose. I sincerely hope Obama gets rid of it FAST after he gets into office.

  • Your Name

    “OK, we all think that people should be able to follow their conscience without getting fired.”
    I certainly don’t. If these doctors & pharmacists are really that concerned about their consciences, they should investigate the places they apply to work for in advance, not just look for whatever job is out there and expect a paycheck whether or not they are willing to do the work expected of them. If you don’t want to harm animals, don’t look for work in a slaughterhouse. If you don’t want to perform abortions, don’t look for work in a place that offers them. I see no logic in forcing a business to keep on an employee that won’t (not can’t) do their job. As nnmns said, no one is forcing these people to do squat – they can walk out at any time, just like any other American who decides – on any grounds – that they no longer want to do the job they were hired for.

  • Thelemite

    The last post was mine – couldn’t agree with you more about the comment service, methodistsearching.

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