In one more blow to women’s health and rights, the Bush Administration has issued a sweeping new regulation giving just about anyone the right to refuse to offer basic women’s health services. It’s being framed as about abortion, but here’s the thing: There are existing laws that protect health care workers from performing or assisting with abortion. Under current U.S. law, no one can be forced to partake in an abortion procedure if they have a moral objection.
This is about birth control.
Leavitt has said the regulation was intended to protect workers who object to abortion, but both supporters and critics said the rule remains broad enough to protect pharmacists, doctors, nurses and others who do not wish to dispense birth control pills, Plan B emergency contraceptives and other forms of contraception. While primarily aimed at doctors and nurses, it offers protection to anyone — including ultrasound technicians, nurses aides, secretaries and even janitors who have any role in the service.
Leavitt said he requested the new regulation after becoming alarmed by reports that health-care workers were being pressured to perform duties they found repugnant. He cited moves by two professional organizations of obstetricians and gynecologists that, he said, might require doctors who object to abortion to refer patients to other physicians who would provide them.
As it stands, no doctor, nurse, or other health care worker has to perform abortions. But under two professional codes of conduct, if a doctor won’t provide a certain service, he or she needs to refer the patient to someone who will. When the service isn’t an emergency, referal can be a pain in the ass, but it’s reasonable enough for something like abortion, where the surgery has to be scheduled in advance anyway.
So I’m not against making reasonable compromises and accomodations for religious and moral belief. But I am against people refusing to do their damn jobs because of some claimed morality that, interestingly enough, seems to only have the effect of punishing sexually active women:
The rule comes at a time of increasingly frequent reports of conflicts between health-care workers asserting their religious freedom and patients seeking legal treatments that some providers object to. Pharmacists have turned away women seeking birth control and morning-after pills. Infertility doctors have refused to help unmarried and lesbian women get pregnant by artificial insemination. Catholic hospitals have refused to administer the morning-after emergency contraception pill, perform abortions or treat women having miscarriages.
Now that is a problem. Refusing to treat a miscarriage, or refusing to end an ectopic pregnancy, can result in serious health complications, including infertility and even death. Refusing to give women birth control or emergency contraception is an affront to our basic liberties. No, doctors, nurses and pharmacists should not have to leave their consciences at the hospital door, but they also need to perform the services for which they were hired — that is, providing health care.
To make matters worse, the new regulations also allow federal funds to go to organizations that explicity refuse to counsel women on all of their options. The wonderful Emily Douglas at RH Reality Check writes:
One of the rule’s more disturbing provisions is the announcement that Title X family planning funding will now be open to grantees who refuse to counsel women on the availability of abortion. Title X has always required that when a woman tests positive for pregnancy, she must be counseled on all of her options, including abortion, and given referrals based on what her expressed interest. The regulations state that Title X funding will be granted “non-discriminatorily” to applicants, including those who refuse to provide counseling and referral for abortion.
Can you imagine if a pro-choice group decided it just wasn’t going to tell women about the options of birth and adoption? And if instead, it gave women scare-tactic, inaccurate propaganda about how adoption is exploitative and will leave you miserable, and how childbirth is directly linked to depression, and how there is clearly One Best Choice? People would (rightly) throw a fit.
But because this is about abortion and contraception, it’s a-ok.
This also gives anti-choice groups greater ability to harass anyone who is in any way affiliated with pro-choice organizations or abortion providers. They already have a history of stalking and harassing nurses, receptionists, janitors, and even people who provide non-medical-related services to abortion providers — dry cleaners, grocers, etc. Anti-choice groups have harassed contractors and construction companies out of building new women’s health clinics. For a lot of people caught in this cross-fire, “I’m just doing my job” is the only way to avoid (however slightly) harassment and intimidation. But under this new law, even loosely-affiliated employees are covered, and so the ability to use your job as a shield goes out the window. I worry that this will further embolden anti-choicers, who are already doing things like this:
The letter arrived on a Tuesday in march. “Dear Sara,” it read. “It is our information that you are currently an employee of Women’s Health Care Services, a facility that provides abortions.” It went on to suggest that Sara Phares, an administrative assistant at the clinic in Wichita, Kansas, quit her job and repent her sins. “Please know that we are praying for you,” the letter concluded. It was signed “Troy Newman, President, Operation Rescue West.” A week later, hundreds of Phares’ neighbors received an anonymous postcard of a mangled fetus. This is abortion! read the big block letters. “Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these.” The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as “Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies” and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper’s ransom note, that neighbors “beg her to quit, pretty please.” The third postcard dispensed entirely with pleasantries: “Sara Phares is not to be trusted! Tell her to get a life!”
One Wichita resident, apparently inspired by the postcards, sent Phares letters beseeching her to quit her job at the clinic. Another neighbor, a federal agent, called her at work to express his concern. “Just be careful, ma’am,” he said. “You never know what kind of nuts these things will draw.”
Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares’ front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property. Phares, a small-boned woman with an irreverent sense of humor, joked about the exorcism. “Wish he’d held off on that holy water till after we’d put the fertilizer down,” she said. But her husband wasn’t amused. Since 1994, there have been five assassination attempts on abortion providers at their homes. A few days after the protest, Phares’ husband got out his revolver, loaded it and taught Sara how to use it.
That isn’t even the half of it. Read the whole article.
I also worry about how far this law will go. We’ve already seen rape survivors being refused emergency contraception, women in the process of miscarriage being refused treatment, and lesbians and unmarried women being refused fertility assistance. So what if a pharmacist wakes up tomorrow and decides that AIDS is your punishment for being gay, or your STI is a punishment for being a big whore, and refuses to fill your prescription for the medication you need? What if a Scientologist decides that he shouldn’t have to leave his moral beliefs at the door, and refuses to write or fill any prescriptions for psychiatric meds? What if a Christian Scientist decides that he is under no obligation to provide any health care at all? What if an ER doctor or EMT’s religion forbids them from touching someone of the opposite sex and so they refuse to treat half the population, even in emergencies? What if my moral belief is that sanctimonious fuckwits who don’t do their jobs shouldn’t be given medical treatment — if I were a more vengeful person, could I go ahead and let them suffer, like they would do to me?
The primary way to get rid of this rule is through a lengthy legislative process. A second option would be the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.
Here’s hoping. Because the fact that the executive office of my country just pushed through a law allowing misogynist health care professionals to refuse to treat me if my existence conflicts with their “moral belief”? That makes me too angry for words. And while I know spite is unbecoming, I fully hope that this shit comes back to bite them in the ass one day.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Pro-Lifers: Increasing the Abortion Rate in Your State by Jill February 2, 2008
- Obama to Rescind HHS “Conscience” Rule by Cara February 27, 2009
- Moral Refusal Clauses: More Than Just Contraception by Jill June 23, 2008
- “Pro-Lifers” care about women’s lives so much that: by Jill March 31, 2007
- That’s some “conscience” by Jill December 15, 2009