The Obama administration plans to reverse a Bush law that granted health care workers the ability to refuse to provide care if it violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs. (Photo: Current.com)
Policy provides sweeping federal protections to health care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their beliefs.
The Obama administration has begun the process of rescinding sweeping new federal protections that were granted in December to health care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.
The Office of Management and Budget announced this morning that it was reviewing a proposal to lift the controversial "conscience" regulation, the first step toward reversing the policy. Once the OMB has reviewed the proposal it will be published in Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period.
"We are proposing rescinding the Bush rule," said an official with the Health and Human Services Department, which drafted the rule change.
The administration took the step because the regulation was so broadly written that it could provide protections to health care workers who object not only to abortion but also to a wide range of health care services, said the HHS official, who asked not to be named because the process had just begun.
"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written it could make it harder for women to get the care they need. It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care," the official said.
After the 30-day comment period, the regulation could be lifted entirely or it could be modified to make the protections more specific, the official said.
"We support a tightly written conscience clause. We recognize and understand that some providers have objections about abortion, and we want to make sure that current law protects them," the official said. "We want to be thoughtful about this."
The new rule empowers the federal government to cut off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other employees who refuse to participate in care they find objectionable. The Bush administration adopted the rule at the urging of conservative groups, abortion opponents and others in order to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.
Women's health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others condemned the regulation, saying it would create a major obstacle to providing many health services, including family planning, infertility treatment and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.
The move marks the latest challenge to the Obama administration's attempt to find more of middle ground on issues related to abortion. President Obama has said repeatedly he hopes those on both sides of the issue can work to reduce the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies and by offering support to women who do get pregnant and want to continue their pregnancies.
That approach has already been tested. Obama angered abortion opponents when he lifted restrictions on federal funding for international family planning groups that promote abortion. The next closely watched decision will be whether Obama lifts federal restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.