Obama to Rescind HHS “Conscience” Rule

So by now, I hope we all remember that dangerous HHS rule that Bush implemented during his final days in office?  The one that prevents health care providers from “discriminating” against employees who refuse to to do their jobs, when they include things like providing patients with birth control and accurate reproductive health options?

And indeed, the one that we were all hoping Obama would overturn once he entered office?

The news has come out today that rescinding the rule is exactly what he apparently plans to do:

Taking another step into the abortion debate, the Obama administration Friday will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs, according to administration officials.

The rollback of the “conscience rule” comes just two months after the Bush administration announced it last year in one of its final policy initiatives.

Three cheers for that!

The kind of sketchy news is this part:

Officials said the administration will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health-care workers can reasonably refuse for patients.

For more than 30 years, federal law has allowed doctors and nurses to decline to provide abortion services as a matter of conscience, a protection that is not subject to rulemaking.

In promulgating the new rule last year, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said it was necessary to address discrimination in the medical field.

He criticized “an environment in the health-care field that is intolerant of individual conscience, certain religious beliefs, ethnic and cultural traditions and moral convictions.”

Officials said the Obama administration’s goal is to make the rule clearer.

Let’s hope that once the administration “considers” this option, they decide to toss the idea back out.  Unless, of course, by making the rules “clearer,” Obama plans to limit the amount of services that health care workers can refuse to provide further than before, thus making access to things like emergency contraception a whole lot easier.  If that’s the route he’s planning to go, it would make this even better news.

NARAL is asking supporters to send Obama their thanks for planning to rescind the rule, and I strongly urge you to do so as well.  Not only is positive reinforcement hugely helpful when it comes to policy, but knowing that he has lots of support for the idea is also likely to increase the chances that Obama gets this done right.

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18 comments for “Obama to Rescind HHS “Conscience” Rule

  1. February 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I believe it’s been mentioned elsewhere that they legally have to have the 30 day comment period before rescinding the rule.

  2. February 27, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Yes, definitely. Sorry, I should have been more specific. I wasn’t referring to the 30 day comment period; that is required by law. I was referring to the bit about how they might just go ahead and make the rule “clearer,” whatever that means, rather than throw it away.

  3. Phenicks
    February 27, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I just want to be sure I have this correct, rescinding this law will thereby force a doctor who delivers babies as a matter of profession and maybe even personal choice to also abort them? Are abortionist also therby forced to deliver live babies if a pregnant woman wants him or her to do it?

  4. February 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Um, no, Phenicks. No one was forced to perform an abortion a couple of months ago prior to this rule being instated, and no one will be forced to perform an abortion after it’s rescinded. Just like no doctor is forced to perform a liver transplant either.

    Unless of course by “perform abortion” you mean “provide birth control” in which case, no, doctors still unfortunately refused birth control prior to this rule. But mean old feminist health care providers would be able to refuse to hire someone on the basis of their refusal to perform such a (non-)”abortion.”

    Oh, and it’s not a law. It’s an executive issued regulation. So you’re incorrect on numerous counts.

  5. February 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    So long as it gets that stupidass can-of-worms definition of “abortifacient” as “anything which might potentially harm a fetus.” Ugh. You can kiss goodbye to modern medicine for women if anyone ever decides to enforce that one.

  6. Phenicks
    February 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Then whats the point of it at all? I’m just not understanding its significance if you’re saying a doctor can say no I don’t want to perform an abortion and thats the end of it then why is this even news? Seriously. There are other real hurdles going on in reproductive rights why waste time discussing one that is according to you essentially fake? I have always felt that declining to hire someone who wont do certain things that may fall within the job duties was somethign every employer had a right to do. Most doctors who wont perform an abortion are employed at catholic or religion based hospitals anyway so I’m really not seeing how this law rescinded or not is somethign of significance.

  7. Phenicks
    February 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    And by the way Cara, though I can understand why you’d jump to the defensive, I’m not anti-choice. I’m a pro-choice woman.

  8. Kristin
    February 27, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Sometimes they can extend it to 60 days? Are we sure about the 30 here?

  9. The Opoponax
    February 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Phenicks, my reading is that preexisting policy allowed OB/GYNs to refuse to perform abortions as a matter of conscience, whereas the Bush executive order allows a much wider array of medical professionals to refuse patients/consumers a much wider degree of reproductive health options. The Bush order, for instance, would allow pharmacists not to fill a prescription for birth control pills – something not an option under previous reproductive health policy in the US.

    And, if you’re pro-choice, the last sentence of your first post kind of implies otherwise.

  10. February 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Phenicks, there’s several posts linked above that explain why it’s a big deal.

    Here’s one reason: because anti-choice health care workers could infiltrate and organization like Planned Parenthood, and they could do absolutely nothing about it without losing all of their federal funding.

    Here’s another one: Because once those anti-choicers infiltrate, they can refuse to provide birth control, for example, or even not let women know what birth control options exists, and not every woman can just go “find another doctor” due to issues of time, money and insurance.

    I have always felt that declining to hire someone who wont do certain things that may fall within the job duties was somethign every employer had a right to do.

    Precisely! As they should! Under this rule, they don’t!

  11. Hiker
    February 27, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    This is probably a good rule, although I don’t see it as clear cut as others since other rights like religion and speech are implicated. Yes,the right to free religion doesn’t mean you can force private employers to accept it – but that counterargument throws a lot of federal antidiscriminaction laws into doubt.

    I’m just a little uneasy at buddhiists, Catholics, or Muslims and Jews losing their job when they don’t want to assist with certain methods. Especially when it’s a large organization that could easily find someone else to accommodate the patient. For small companies it definitely makes sense.

  12. Div
    February 27, 2009 at 9:03 pm


    A doctor will likely not get fired for refusing to perform abortions. They will, however, if they refuse to refer someone to the correct personnel who will or for whatever reason refuse for that person to get any treatment (this is, clearly, a guess on my part). Alternately, if someone’s job is in jeopardy because they are following their personal moral code, then perhaps a change in employers is in order.

    Another note, if someone’s religion conflicts with their views on abortion/birth control, perhaps they should not specialize in women’s care or work in a place where they may be required to perform an abortion. Just an idea. Every job has a list of expected duties, and it is the employee’s job to tell the employer straight out what they will and will not do.

  13. February 27, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I read an article on the Huffington Post today written by a veteran who was commenting about certain “changes” Obama ostensibly enacted to make mental health care more accessible to veterans whom, he erroneously believes, will soon be returning from Iraq. While he seemed to think the changes were adequate in certain respects, he noted serious problems as well, stating that “the devil was in the details”.

    That is always the case with everything Obama seems to be saying or doing. The man is a brilliant Harvard-trained lawyer, so he is adept at phrasing his statements to sound like promises, but upon closer examination he was using lawyerspeak to leave himself plenty of wiggle room to back out.

    Case in point: The “draw down” of troops in Iraq and Obama’s supposed departure from the Bush administration’s foreign policies. RE: the Middle East, he’s primarily reshuffling the deck of soldiers and moving them to Afghanistan. Meanwhile. we will have a “residual troop presence” in Iraq of about 50,000ish….”non combat” troops of course. The troops who have been shuffled to Afghanistan will be replaced in Iraq by private contractors like Blackwater (google “Amy Goodman Obama interview”). He can then claim to have made good on his pledge to “end the war in Iraq” while we are still very much occupying that country. Mission accomplished!

    I really do hope Obama follows through completely on this particular move to rescind the HHS “conscience rule”. Thus far, however, I have seen little reason to trust a word that comes out of his mouth, and I think that now more than ever those of us on the left must remain hypervigilant & prepared to fight back against Obama when necessary. He’s a smooth talker and he’s brilliant….which makes him potentially more dangerous that Bush ever was.

  14. February 27, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Phenicks, the reason this is news is that 1. This rule says they don’t even have to provide information or refer 2. It applies to anyone even tangentially related to the delivery of health care, which could include cashiers at a Walmart or a janitor and 3. Most importantly, any facility that delivers any sort of health care AT ALL has to certify that they don’t discriminate against anyone who may exercise this conscience clause in hiring.

    So, for example, your local surgery center would have to hire Christian Scientists as receptionists or be seen as discriminatory. They could refuse to book your appointment. Or, they could refuse to call you back on the day of your surgery and not get anyone else to do so, letting you and every other patient scheduled for surgery sit in reception for hours and collect a nice paycheck to enforce their religion on others. A local family planning center run by the department of health that is funded for the sole purpose of providing birth control to the poor could be forced to hire every anti contraception nut who applies there or face extensive law suits.

    So, it’s a big deal. There is already tons of laws, rules and statutes protecting practitioners from having to preform abortions. This has nothing to do with that.

  15. February 27, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Ack, typos. Preform = perform. And, when I said “call you back” on the day of your surgery, I mean tell you, in the waiting room, that it is time to go get prepped. It would be entirely conceivable that they would have to pay for an entire second receptionist to do the job.

  16. April 10, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I was trying to find more information on this consicence rule after hearing a friend of mine’s fears regarding its rescission. After finding page upon page of websites supporting the rule I stumbled on yours after a tinkered google search. Though I would definitely not consider myself pro-choice (I feel both tag-lines are reductionist rhetoric that have only further prolonged constructive dialogue on this topic), I hear what you are saying.

    I think we who tend towards conservatism get so embattled over the smallest of things without realizing that we are succumbing to hipocrisy. Would conservatives jump for joy if there were a conscience clause that required religious institutions to hire people with vastly different beliefs?

    I definitely see your point here.

  17. April 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    One question:

    MomTFH-you claimed that this rule also covers cashiers at Walmart and janitors. Could you produce some evidence within the clause? It is here:

    It could be there, but it just seems a bit odd that this would be the case being that this is the Department of Health and Human Services, which I don’t think has much input into commercial institutions’s cashiers (pharmacists sure, but cashiers?). But I could be wrong. I am definitely no legal scholar, and that’s a really long tract of legalese!

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