Earlier this month, the Obama administration rescinded most of the 2008 federal regulation allowing health care workers to refuse to provide medical care they object to on moral or religious grounds.
The Obama administration is retaining pre-existing conscience statutes for instance those allowing health care workers to refuse “to perform or assist in a sterilization procedure or an abortion, if it would be contrary to the individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Catholic Hospitals retain the same protections they have had for decades.
But President Obama’s administration partially rescinded a broader Bush-era regulation issued on December 19, 2008.
In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule entitled “Ensuring that Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law.” The Bush administration said the new rule was necessary to “ensure compliance with the nondiscrimination requirements embodied in the federal health care provider conscience protection statutes” and would broaden definitions included in pre-existing conscience clauses – in terms of health care providers and activities they find objectionable.
The new rule was interpreted as possibly allowing pharmacists to not provide prescriptions for birth control pills or emergency contraception, permitting physicians to refuse to see gay AIDS patients or provide fertility treatment to a lesbian; providing an out for an ambulance driver or EMT who didn’t want to transport a woman who wanted to obtain an abortion.
On Friday, February 18 the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would rescind the 2008 rule “based on concerns expressed that it had the potential to negatively impact patient access to contraception and certain other medical services without a basis in federal conscience protection statutes.”
The pre-existing conscience laws remain, and the Obama administration is also retaining provisions in the Bush-era rule that establish a formal enforcement process for federal conscience laws.