The Obama administration is still working to overturn conscience rights for medical professionals on abortion that were put in place at the tail end of the Bush administration.
In 2008, the Bush administration issued a rule that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and health care aides who refuse to take part in medical procedures to which they have religious or moral objections, such as abortion.
The rule implemented existing conscience protection laws that ensure medical professionals cannot be denied employment because they do not want to assist in abortions.
New information about the state of those protections and efforts to repeal them comes from legal papers the administration filed in a case the state of Connecticut launched against the conscience protections.
In a document filed in federal court in November, Obama administration attorneys admitted that the administration wants to finalize a rescission of the conscience rules but has been delayed because of other business — likely due to the HHS working on implementing the provisions of the ObamaCare law.
HHS “hope[d] to have an internal draft final rule prepared in the near future, but that the schedule is necessarily tentative given the possibility of unforeseen delays and the need to devote time and resources to other agency priorities,” the November legal paper said.
Responding to the paper, the federal court asked for more information about the delay.
The Obama administration filed another legal paper December 1 stating “HHS still cannot be certain of a date for completing the rulemaking” but added “HHS expects to have a final rule published in the Federal Register within sixty to ninety days – i.e., as early as January 31, 2011, and no later than March 1, 2011.”
Obama officials asked the court to not mandate a time by which the rescission is made and said they hope to complete the rescission of the conscience rights prior to the court issuing a decision related to the Bush rules in the Connecticut challenge.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life legal group, points out that the papers make it clear the Obama administration intends to repeal the conscience protections on abortion, citing language saying the administration would notify the court “when the final rule regarding the proposed rescission is published.”
ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman said the Obama administration “wants to dismantle” the conscience protections “leaving little defense for the regulation and for health care workers.”
“Medical professionals should not be punished for holding to their beliefs, and they should not be forced to perform abortions against their conscience,” he told LifeNews.com. “Those pursuing this lawsuit, including organizations such as Planned Parenthood, would like nothing more than to deny health care workers the only means that exists to defend their federally protected right to opt out of abortions.”
ADF has been defending the rights of a nurse who was forced to assist in an abortion and is she is now seeking to join the lawsuit to oppose Connecticut’s efforts to overturn the Bush rules.
As LifeNews.com reported in November, Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo lost a federal court ruling saying she doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion.
ADF is currently involved in a lawsuit in New York state court to defend Cenzon-DeCarlo’s conscience rights under state law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal of her federal lawsuit, leaving only an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the means to defend her rights protected under federal law.
That investigation relies upon the conscience regulations implemented by former President George W. Bush that direct the department to conduct such investigations. If Connecticut is successful or the Obama administration overturns the rules, “this case may cause Mrs. DeCarlo to again be illegally compelled to assist in abortions by her federally funded employer due to the removal of all her protective measures,” ADF legal papers say.
“Moreover, that Regulation has helped empower Defendant HHS’ Office of Civil Rights to actually and presently be investigating that violation on her behalf, explicitly telling Mrs. DeCarlo that the investigation is being pursued at least in part under the Implementing Regulation. Yet in this case, Plaintiffs seek to invalidate that Regulation and Defendants have worked with Plaintiffs to stay the case based on their intent to rescind the Regulation,” the papers add.
ADF attorneys, working together with the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, are simultaneously attempting to intervene in the Connecticut case on behalf of several pro-life medical associations.
The judge cleared the motions from his calendar for now but determined that they can be considered once the case, which is currently on hold, moves forward.
Although federal law has long forbidden discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform abortions or provide referrals for them, the regulation required institutions that get federal funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights.
It also promoted education within the medical community regarding their rights and provided an avenue of recourse in the event of discrimination through the Office of Civil Rights within HHS.
At the end of February, the Obama administration announced it began “reviewing” the regulations implementing conscience laws, the first step toward rescinding the rule altogether.
In 2009, Obama told students at Notre Dame he wanted to find common ground on abortion and used the conscience clause as an example. but he came under criticism from pro-life lawmakers who said he was working to remove the protections.