Obama Push to Rescind Conscience Rights Upsets Pro-Life Doctors

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 20, 2010   |   11:45AM   |   Washington, DC

A national organization of Christian doctors is strongly concerned about the Obama administration’s effort to rescind conscience protections the Bush administration put in place for medical professionals.

The regulations provide additional protections and support for those doctors and nurses who don’t want to be involved in abortions and may face pressure from medical institutions receiving federal funds.

As LifeNews.com recently reported, documents the Obama administration filed in November and December have Obama administration attorneys admitting 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. 
That greatly concerns Jonathan Imbody, the Vice President for Government Relations at the Christian Medical Association.

“When the Obama administration announced plans to get rid of the only federal regulation protecting conscience rights in health care, CMA swung into action and organized a coalition of nearly 50 organizations into a new entity, Freedom2Care,” he said in an email to LifeNews.com. “Our groups helped enable healthcare professionals and patients to flood the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with approximately 340,000 regulation-supporting comments, which, by law, HHS officials must review before getting rid of the regulation.”

“Such efforts apparently delayed the administration acting on its threat until now,” Imbody said.

The advocate for medical professionals said medical workers and the pro-life people who support them need to act now to try to save the regulations.

“The government is now telling the court, in response to a lawsuit by several states against the conscience-protecting regulation, that HHS plans to eliminate or replace the conscience regulation by as early as January 31,” Imbody added. “That means we must act again to raise awareness of this threat to conscience rights, which has the potential to push life-affirming healthcare professionals out of medicine and strand the patients who depend upon them for care.”

“Whether you are a student or a doctor, federal conscience protections will have a significant impact on your ability to continue to practice ethical medicine. Don’t wait for someone else to stand in the gap on this one—take action yourself to protect your rights,” he added.”Share your story if you’ve experienced overt or subtle discrimination, contact your legislators, tell your patients and engage your colleagues.”

Imbody warns of potential fallout in the medical industry if those doctors and nurses who don’t want to violate their conscience are pressured or forced to do so.

“Millions of patients nationwide depend upon faith-based healthcare institutions and professionals. Our national poll revealed that 95 percent of faith-based physicians will leave medicine if forced to compromise their ethical convictions,” he said.

David Stevens, MD, the CEO of the Christian medical group, also weighed in on the news of the impending Obama administration actions.

“This regulation was designed to put teeth into the laws that protect our First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the administration has not enforced it in the interim and now they plan to eliminate it altogether,” he complained. “As the case of the nurse who was forced to participate in a late term abortion in New York City demonstrated, presently healthcare professionals have no legal recourse when they are discriminated against unless this regulation is kept in place and enforced.”

Stevens is referring to the case of Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, who lost a federal court ruling saying she doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion.

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.

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. [related]

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 2009, 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.