On March 9, 2009, the Obama Administration proposed to rescind a Bush Administration regulation protecting the conscience rights of health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, and medical students. This regulation implemented longstanding federal conscience protection laws, some of which have been on the books since the 1970s. These laws prohibit discrimination against health care providers who object to participating in abortion, sterilization, or other controversial medical procedures.
Although federal conscience protections have been in place for years, very few health care providers are aware of their rights under these laws. Even worse, HHS has done next to nothing in 35 years to enforce them. The regulation was intended to increase awareness among health care professionals of their rights, finally assign proper enforcement responsibility within HHS, and bring needed clarity to laws that have essentially been gathering dust for decades.
Now the Obama Administration, after little more than a month in office, is proposing to rescind the regulation entirely. The proposed rescission cites concern with potential “ambiguity and confusion,” despite the fact that the Bush regulation—for the first time—clarifies the law and assigns an enforcement home within HHS, allowing health care providers to bring their complaints of discrimination. Yet the proposed rescission would do away with the progress that has been made and replace it with nothing. Because the conscience protection laws themselves aren’t going away, rescinding the regulation would result in real ambiguity and confusion.
Why rush to roll back conscience protections for health care professionals? If the Obama Administration is genuinely concerned about potential confusion here—rather than just pandering to the extreme pro-abortion lobby—the proper course is to let the regulations operate for a while and see what happens. Instead, the proposed rescission is an attempt to impose a “gag rule” that prevents meaningful enforcement of conscience laws and leaves health care professionals in the dark about their rights.
Marilyn Keefe, head of the National Partnership for Women and Families (a pro-abortion group), says the administration’s proposal to rescind the conscience regulation “balances the rights of patients and providers.”
Yet can Ms. Keefe or others in her organization name one instance—just one—in the last 35 years where HHS has acted on behalf of a health care provider to enforce these conscience protection laws? If rolling back conscience protections for doctors and medical students is the Obama Administration’s definition of “balance” in health care, what comes next?
Let the Department of Health and Human Services know your support for the regulation protecting conscience rights in the health care work place. Send your comment to HHS by April 9, 2009, by visiting www.adoctorsright.com.