Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Conscience Clause Bush Style

Imagine a health care system where your doctor or hospital can refuse to treat you because they don’t believe it would be morally right. Sounds chaotic? This has been the dream of far right religious zealots and the more radical Republican Party leaders, like the Bush administration. In many states, it’s called the conscience clause. It may sound like a threat to the public health, but that hasn’t stopped these nut jobs from leaving the Obama administration with even more things to to “fix." The NY Times explains:

A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Ohio Health Department said the rule “could force family planning providers to hire employees who may refuse to do their jobs. ” Pharmacies said the rule would allow their employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and could “lead to Medicaid patients being turned away.”

It 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” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.

The protest from the commission comes on the heels of other objections to the rule by doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, state attorneys general and political leaders, including President-elect Barack Obama (who) said the proposal will raise new hurdles to women seeking reproductive health services, like abortion and some contraceptives. Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said he would try to rescind it, a process that could take three to six months.

To avoid the usual rush of last-minute rules, the White House said in May that new regulations should be proposed by June 1 and issued by Nov. 1. The “provider conscience” rule missed both deadlines. Under the White House directive, the deadlines can be waived “in extraordinary circumstances.” Administration officials were unable to say immediately why an exception might be justified in this case.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this country when this new rule is put in place, even for a few months. And you thought trashing the White House by the outgoing administration was bad form (even though it really didn't happen when Clinton office).

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