New rule for health providers stirs objections
Dec 18, 2008
By KEVIN FREKING
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration, in its final days, has issued a federal rule reinforcing protections for doctors and other health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures because of religious or moral objections.
Critics of the rule say the protections are so broad that they limit a patient’s right to get care and accurate information. For example, they fear the rule could make it possible for a pharmacy clerk to refuse to sell birth control pills and face no ramifications from an employer.
Under longstanding federal law, institutions may not discriminate against individuals who refuse to perform abortions or provide a referral for one. The administration’s rule, issued Thursday, is intended to ensure that federal funds don’t flow to providers who violate those laws.
“Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.
The rule requires recipients of Health and Human Services funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights.
Despite multiple laws on the books protecting health care providers from participating in abortions or sterilizations, the administration argued that the rule was needed “to raise awareness of federal conscience protections and provide for their enforcement.”
Several medical associations as well as a group of 13 attorneys general were among the many thousands who wrote to the department to protest the rule after it was proposed. Opponents didn’t like the rule any better after it was finalized.
“In just a matter of months, the Bush administration has undone three decades of federal protections for both medical professionals and their patients, replaced them with a policy that seriously risks the health of millions of women, then tried to pass it off as benevolent,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Abortion opponents hailed the regulation because they said the lack of regulation had resulted in confusion and a lack of awareness.
“This is a huge victory for religious freedom and the First Amendment,” said Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.
The administration estimated the cost of complying with the rule at $43.6 million annually, which is spread throughout the hundreds of thousands of health providers subject to the rule – from hospitals and physician offices to medical schools and pharmacies.
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