The Department of Health and Human Services today announced a rule that turns back most of a last-minute "conscience clause" enacted by the Bush Administration. The new rule keeps in place long-standing protections for health care workers who object on religious grounds to performing certain procedures like abortion and sterilization. But it eliminates broad provisions of the rule that may have been interpreted to allow workers to opt-out of a wide range of services. The Washington Post reports:
The Bush regulation, if enforced, would have cut off federal funding for thousands of entities, including state and local governments, hospitals, health plans and clinics, if they did not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other employees who refused to participate in care they felt violated their personal, moral or religious beliefs.
Women's health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others had condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, access to the emergency contraception Plan B, birth control pills and other forms of family planning, as well as infertility treatment and possibly a wide range of scientific research. Advocates for end-of-life care also said it could enable doctors, nurses and others to refuse to honor patients' wishes.
Today's action (read HHS' announcement of the new rule here) is in many ways a return to the rule that existed prior to December 2008, when the Bush Administration issued the sweeping change just weeks prior to President Obama's Inauguration.
This is an awfully tricky challenge, balancing the rights of health care workers to live according to their beliefs, and the rights of patients to receive care. It is a challenge that calls for common sense, thoughtful accommodation, not a broad brush that greatly imperils the needs of one interest over the other.