The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to rescind regulations which made explicit the existing legal protections for medical workers who object to cooperating in abortions. The preparations have led one Republican congressman to charge President Obama’s administration with trying to implement the Freedom of Choice act “incrementally.”
On Friday the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that it was reviewing a proposal to lift the Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) regulation. The move is the first step toward reversing the policy.
After the OMB reviews the proposal, it will be published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period, according to federal law.
An unnamed official told the Washington Post that the HHS is concerned the rule is written “so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care.”
“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, explaining that the regulation could be lifted entirely or could be modified to make the protections more specific.
The regulation had been implemented in the last months of President George W. Bush’s administration.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported the regulation, citing in a Sept. 12 letter the “growing hostility on the part of some professional organizations and advocacy groups to rights of conscience in health care” and describing other “undisguised hostility to conscience rights.”
Upon hearing of the Obama administration’s intention to rescind the regulations, NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan praised the move, calling it a “victory for women.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) on Friday issued a statement critical of the review of the regulation, characterizing it as the third recent action Democrats have taken to weaken rules that are meant “to safeguard the sanctity of human life.”
“It is an action that will hurt faith-based health providers and hospitals throughout our nation who are committed to caring for Americans at this critical time,” he argued. “It will also inevitably result in more abortions being performed nationwide.”
Referring to the Freedom of Choice Act, a package of pro-abortion “rights” legislation, Rep. Boehner argued that the Obama administration is “intent on enacting FOCA incrementally – step by tragic step – through low-key legislative maneuvers and executive orders.”
Chris Smith (R-NJ) also expressed his concern over patients being affected by the possible elimination of the regulations. “Women deserve to have the option to choose doctors who reflect their views on the sanctity of human life,” he said. “They will lose that freedom if pro-life health care professionals are driven from the medical field.
“Without long-standing ‘conscience protection’ the extremist abortion lobby will eventually turn every ob-gyn into an abortionist,” Smith claimed.
“To see where they are trying to take us, look no further than the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists so-called Ethics Opinion that says all ob-gyns should make referrals for abortion, and those who won’t do abortions should relocate in close proximity to an abortionist. The nation is under siege by pro-abortion radicals who are attacking the fundamental right of conscience, and are attempting to impose their will through the Obama administration. It is ironic that they like to be called pro-choice, instead of pro-abortion, but that their preference for ‘choice’ refers only to people who support the killing of unborn children,” Smith remarked.
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, also released a critical statement on Friday.
Rescinding the regulation would be a “huge blow” to religious freedom and First Amendment rights, he argued.
Overturning the regulation would “open the door” to discrimination against health care workers who do not want to be complicit in abortion or “other controversial practices,” Perkins added. He said the lack of regulations has resulted in “confusion and a lack of awareness” within the health care community despite long-standing conscience protection laws.
“President Obama's intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person's right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government's to decide it for them,” Perkins stated.