Last-minute Bush abortion ruling causes furor
By Robert Pear (November 18, 2008, International Herald Tribune)
A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job-discrimination laws.
The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Obama has said the proposal will raise new hurdles to women seeking reproductive health services, like abortion and some contraceptives. Michael Leavitt, the health and human services secretary, said that was not the purpose.
Officials at the Health and Human Services Department said they intended to issue a final version of the rule within days. Aides and advisers to Obama said he would try to rescind it, a process that could take three to six months.
The proposal is supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals.
Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said that in recent years, “we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.”
Pharmacies said the rule would allow their employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and could “lead to Medicaid patients being turned away.” State officials said the rule could void state laws that require insurance plans to cover contraceptives and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.