No Offense

Dec 18, 2008 12:34pm

ABC News’ Brian Hartman Reports: In what amounts to a final poke in the eye of groups that promote abortion rights, the Bush administration has issued a long-awaited rule that protects doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to provide services that offend them.

Democrat-allied groups like Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League and Moveon.org have been railing against this "provider conscience" rule since it was first proposed this summer.

The rule requires any "entities" that receive federal funds to give their workers the freedom to recuse themselves from providing any services they find morally repugnant. It’s not just about abortion. This also gives health care workers and medical researchers the freedom to refuse to do anything they find offensive — like providing birth control, sterilizing patients or sharing family planning information.

The rule appears in the Federal Register tomorrow, just in time for it to kick in before Obama takes office. For democrats to unravel it will require either an act of Congress or a repeat of the lengthy rulemaking process.

In the notice for the rule, the administration writes this is necessary, in part, to address a critical shortage of doctors and nurses.

"The Department is concerned about the development of an environment in sectors of the health care field that is intolerant of individual objections to abortion or other individual religious beliefs or moral convictions. Such developments may discourage individuals from entering health care professions. Such developments also promote the mistaken belief that rights of conscience and self-determination extend to all persons, except health care providers," the notice says.

HHS officials insist the rule, while new, creates no new restrictions. They say it simply enforces laws already on the books.

The Federal Register notice says: "This rule implements federal laws protecting health care workers and institutions from being compelled to participate in, or from being discriminated against for refusal to participate in, health services or research activities that may violate their consciences, including abortion and sterilization, by entities that receive certain funding from the Department."

Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive health and education, calls this claim "disingenuous."

"In fact, by redefining key terms it vastly expands these laws’ reach," Camp wrote in a letter of protest she filed with HHS. "The regulation conflicts with and undermines a host of other federal and state laws and policies designed to help Americans obtain needed reproductive health information and services."

These criticisms are acknowledged in the text of the rule itself, but it downplays complaints that this will lead to more limited access to birth control.

"We have found no evidence that these regulations will create new barriers in accessing contraception unless those contraceptives are currently delivered over the religious or moral objections of the provider in such programs or research activities."

Even before this rule kicks into affect, President-elect Barack Obama’s Transition Team already is reviewing ways to, as National Abortion Rights Action League puts it, "fix the damage the Bush administration has done" to the democrats’ reproductive health agenda. The Wall Street Journal took a good look at the Obama team’s options yesterday.

And you can read the new rule for yourself right HERE.

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