Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Proposed "Provider Conscience" Regulation Endangers Access to Medical Care

The Bush Administration is attempting to pass into law a regulation that allows health care workers to refuse to provide any service that they object to on moral or religious grounds. Protests Over a Rule to Protect Health Providers, New York Times, November 18, 2008. According to the New York Times, a "torrent" of objections has been raised, including one from two commissioners of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency with jurisdiction over employment discrimination claims. There are several problems with the proposed regulation. One is that it is redundant. Current federal law already protects employees from discrimination on the basis of religion. Employers must make reasonable accommodation to religious beliefs. There is a long-standing body of law on this point that could be contradicted by the proposed regulation, throwing the law in this area into chaos. The following quote succinctly describes some of the other problems:

From NOW (Nat'l Organization for Women) letter to Michael Leavitt, Sec'y of Health & Human Services, concerning proposed regulation:
The reason advanced for the proposed regulation is redundant. Current federal conscience clauses already protect medical professionals who refuse to provide treatment and services based on their religious objections. The proposed regulation is vague. It omits any definition of abortion entirely, thereby inviting providers to use personal interpretation and political views (including the view that birth control and contraceptives are the same as abortion) when determining women's access to medical care, family planning and contraceptives. The proposed regulation is hostile. It has no regard for women's autonomous ability to make fundamental decisions about their healthcare and family formation and allows the views of health care providers to trump the religious, moral and ethical decisions that their female clients and patients have made.

The proposed regulation is harmful. It undermines health care workers' ability to offer the very services for which they are funded and it will discourage doctors and health care clinics from providing the full range of legal, medically-necessary reproductive health services for fear of losing federal funds.

The proposed regulation is also of particular concern to gays and lesbians, who could easily be denied health care based on the provider's "moral or religious beliefs". This has certainly happened to lesbians seeking artificial insemination, among other things. Critics: Proposed 'Provider Conscience' Regulation Threatens Public Health, The Advocate, Sept. 27, 2008.

This article describes some other situations in which almost anyone might be denied appropriate health care under the proposed regulation.
Proposed federal 'Provider Conscience' Rule dangerous

Obama is opposed to the regulation and has said that he will rescind it if it becomes law. That will take three to six months, however. (NY Times)

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