Pro-Life Groups Upset by Obama’s Weakening Conscience Rights

National   Steven Ertelt   Feb 21, 2011   |   1:31PM    Washington, DC

The decision by the administration of President Barack Obama to weaken the pro-life conscience protections President George W. Bush put in place for medical workers has leading pro-life groups upset.

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. The rule implemented existing conscience protection laws that ensure medical professionals cannot be denied employment because they do not want to assist in abortions.

On Friday, Obama rescinded part of the protections, with the Health and Human Services Department scrapping a portion of the rule and calling it  “unclear and potentially overbroad in scope.” Obama officials put a new rule in place that leaves in place protections on abortion but offers no protection for medical workers who have moral or religious objections to dispensing or giving to women the Plan B drug or other emergency contraception that could act in some cases as an abortion drug.

Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest condemned the ruling and noted the Obama Administration had rescinded almost all of the regulation protecting conscience rights for medical professionals – except the provision to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“This must come to an end.  No longer should the civil rights of medical professionals be held hostage to political interests,” she told LifeNews.com.

Yoest said “the Obama Administration acknowledged that it is a civil right not to participate in an abortion, but in the same breath weakened federal regulations designed to protect that right.”

“This underscores the necessity for Congressional action; health care providers must have an effective means to enforce their rights written in the law.  The protection of the basic civil right to provide care without participating in life-destructive activities must not be dependent on the whims of an Administration that has made expanding abortion central to its mission,” she said.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins also condemned the decision to eliminate key provisions of a Bush administration regulation that enforced laws protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals who oppose abortion.

“Today’s erosion of conscience protections for medical professionals is a blow both to medicine and the right to practice one’s deeply-held convictions. I am troubled that the Obama Administration has issued a final rule that strikes key sections of 2008 conscience regulations and weakens their enforcement substantially,” he said. “The President chose to reject the views of the vast majority of people – close to two hundred thousand – who provided comment in 2009 opposing any attempt to rescind the conscience regulations.”

He told LifeNews.com: “It’s a sad fact that discrimination against health care workers who object to participating in abortion is a continuing threat from both federally-funded organizations and the government. The previous conscience regulations were implemented to enforce the conscience laws passed over the last 35 years, and they required that federally-funded entities certify their compliance with three conscience laws. Removing the certification requirement will make enforcement harder, not easier.”

“The rule also removes the definitions that ensured protections were maintained for individuals working in federally-funded organizations. Rather than provide greater clarity to the law’s protections for those who object to ‘assisting in the performance’ of abortion, the removal of these definitions creates greater ambiguity and will make enforcement more difficult,” Perkins explained. “While we support the Office of Civil Rights investigating claims of discrimination and allowing people to file such complaints, this is insufficient to ensure such discrimination does not take place. Although the new regulations may offer an imaginary fig-leaf of political cover on conscience rights, they severely limit the enforcement provision in the previous conscience regulations.”

Perkins joined Yoest in calling for Congress to act and said the three bills in the House would help put conscience protections in place — the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 361), the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) and the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358).

Dominique Monlezun, a student at Tulane School of Medicine who is the national coordinator of Medical Students for Life, a division of Students for Life of America, also told LifeNews.com she is upset by Obama’s decision on Friday.

“This is a direct attack on the entire medical community’s conscience and our oath to ‘do no harm.’ The decision undermines the constitutional rights of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals,” she said. “Without the enforcement of the complete Bush Conscience Rule, many of our peers will be forced to participate in taking the life of human beings through medical abortion through drugs, like Plan B and ella, and engaging in other objectionable medical practices.”

“Medical Students for Life stands with future pro-life medical professionals in opposing the Obama Administration’s outrageous decision, and will continue to work to support and defend pro-life medical students,” she added.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, also weighed in with comments to LifeNews.com.

“Today, the Obama Administration directly attacked pro-life medical professionals, removing part of the conscience protections in the name of “reproductive health.” This is outrageous and a direct attack on essence of medicine. In forcing physicians and pharmacists to perform and comply with the anti-life beliefs of the Obama Administration, medical professionals are forced to simply be staff taking orders from President Obama about how to practice medicine,” she said. “Furthermore, pro-life medical students are also victims of the Obama Administration’s decision and will face harsh discrimination for standing up for life and their beliefs on campus.”

The Obama Administration received more than 300,000 comments when it announced in 2009 that it intended to rescind regulations enacted under the Bush Administration to uphold federal conscience protection laws.  Nearly two-thirds of those comments expressed opposition to rescinding the conscience-protecting regulations.