In a little-noticed move earlier this month, the Obama Administration rescinded part of the Bush-era “conscience clause,” which permits health care workers to deny care or services if they have moral or religious objections.The Washington Post reports that the Department of Health and Human Services gutted most of a federal regulation that in 2008 broadened existing conscience protection rules.
Rob Stein of the Post reports that the 2008 language provided protection for health care workers if they refused to provide certain services like “providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women.”
Friday’s move was seen as an important step in countering that trend, which in recent years had led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian’s request for infertility treatment, and an ambulance driver in Chicago to turn away a woman who needed transportation for an abortion.
HHS described the Bush-era regulation as “unclear and potentially overbroad in scope,” and Rima Cohen, the counselor for health policy to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said, according to the Post: “We’ve had conscience protections on the books in some cases for more than 30 years. When the Bush administration put these rules out, they really contained overly broad language that was confusing to people. We didn’t think that was necessary.”
The change still protects workers who refuse to perform abortions and sterilizations, and provides a mechanism for those who believe their right to refuse was violated, through the HHS Office of Civil Rights.