Last-minute conscience rule grants protection to abortion objectors

As a parting shot at the Obama Administration’s support for abortion, the Bush Administration has issued a regulation which confirms the right of federally funded health care providers to decline to participate in procedures to which they have a conscientious objection. It is timed to take effect one day before the new president is inaugurated. Although it will almost certainly be undone by the incoming administration, this may take months.

Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt explained. “This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.”

The role of conscientious objection is currently under attack in the US. For instance, Dr Anne Drapkin Lyerly, chair of the ethics committee at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recently told the President’s Council on Bioethics that the reproductive health needs of women who want an abortion should trump the moral qualms of doctors.

Many health care providers routinely face pressure to change their medical practice – often in direct opposition to their personal convictions,” said HHS Assistant Secretary of Health, Admiral Joxel Garcia. “During my practice as an OB-GYN, I witnessed this first-hand. Health care providers shouldn’t have to check their consciences at the hospital door. Fortunately, Congress enacted several laws to that end, but too many are unaware these protections exist.”

Critics of the last-minute regulation claim that it is too broad and could endanger patients. According to the Los Angeles Times, they are particularly worried that patients will not be given full and complete information about medical options. For example, an anti-abortion doctor in a federally-funded clinic might refuse to inform a pregnant patient that her foetus had a severe abnormality. Or an doctor might withhold information about emergency contraception if a woman had been raped. ~ HHS.gov, Dec 18; Los Angeles Times, Dec 19

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