Bush Administration Issued Last-Minute Rule Reinforcing Protections for Health Care Workers’ Conscientious Objections

In the Bush administration’s final days in power, the Bush administration issued a federal rule reinforcing protections for doctors and other health care workers who conscientiously object and refuse to perform abortions or other procedures due to religious or moral objections. 

Under existing federal law, health institutions are not permitted to discriminate against individuals who refuse to perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.  According to administration officials, this new rule ensures that federal funds do not go to providers who violate those laws by requiring recipients of federal funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights.

Despite multiple laws on the books protecting health providers, the administration argued that the rule was needed “to raise awareness of federal conscience protections and provide for their enforcement.”  Critics say the protections are so broad they limit a patient’s right to get care and accurate information; they fear the rule could make it possible for a pharmacy clerk to refuse to sell birth control pills without ramifications from an employer.

The rule will take effect on Jan. 18, two days before Obama takes office.  The Obama administration could issue new regulations that would trump these recently passed rules.

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