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A predictable outcry from social conservatives has greeted the Obama administration’s decision to move towards rescinding the “conscience” rule permitting health care workers to refuse to provide care if they have religious scruples about doing so. For example:

“It is open season to again discriminate against health-care
professionals,” said David Stevens, head of the Christian Medical &
Dental Associations. “Our Founding Fathers, who bled and died to
guarantee our religious freedom, are turning over in their graves.”

Bear in mind that this rule was put in place by the Bush administration at the tail end of its time in office, and only went into effect a month ago. But such comments are to be expected from such quarters.

Just to be clear about what transpired late last year, the Bushies
redefined the terms of generation-old religious protections for
health professionals in order to make it clear that just about anyone could object to doing anything if it violated his or her conscience. As in:

in the Performance” means to participate in any activity with a
reasonable connection to a procedure, health service or health service
program, or research activity, so long as the individual involved is a
part of the workforce of a Department-funded entity. This includes
counseling, referral, training, and other arrangements for the
procedure, health service, or research activity.

“Health Care
Entity” includes an individual physician or other health care
professional, health care personnel, a participant in a program of
training in the health professions, an applicant for training or study
in the health professions, a post graduate physician training program,
a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance
organization, a health insurance plan, laboratory or any other kind of
health care organization or facility. It may also include components of
State or local governments.

So say you’re a nurse trainee in a
federally funded clinic who happens to oppose sex outside marriage, and
a 23-year-old unmarried woman comes in to ask about birth control.
After ascertaining that she is not married you would be entitled to
say, “Sorry, but I won’t talk to you about that. And I won’t help you find anyone else to do so.”

Now, in its
ongoing effort to achieve “common ground” in this contentious area, the
administration (in the person of an unnamed Health and Human Services official) told WaPo’s Rob Stein that it was open to creating an explicit
exception for abortion. And not surprisingly, Third Way’s Rachel Laser
said the same. And (off the record, to be sure), “some family planning
groups” indicated that they might be willing to go along too.

But as for the other other side, there was no sign of movement:

“This is going to be a political hit for the administration,” said Joel
Hunter, senior pastor of the Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., whom
Obama recently named to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and
Neighborhood Partnerships. “This will be one of those things that kind
of says, ‘I knew it. They talk about common ground, but really what
they want is their own way.’ “


“I think what was in place was as good as one could find in terms of
seeking and securing common ground,” said the Rev. Frank Page, the
immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and another
member of Obama’s faith council. “It’s a matter of respect. I felt like
what was in place was that middle ground of common respect.”

As members of the new OFANP council, Hunter and Page are guys who supposedly want to play ball with the administration. They are exhibits A and B of “common ground” evangelicals. But so far as I can see, all that common ground means to them is being willing to serve on the council.

What they might have said is something like, “I strongly support the conscience rule. At the same time, I recognize the importance of assuring recipients of federally funded health care access to all the information and procedures to which they are entitled by law. And I’ll be doing what I can to help reach a compromise that assures the rights of all parties.” And until they (or some in their camp) say something like that, and publicly, there’s nothing more to “common ground” on this issue than the pro-choice side giving ground and the pro-life side taking it.

  • Rob Winslow

    Those health care workers who morally object to participating in abortions are already protected from being forced to do so, and there is no good reason to extend that protection (which would come at the expense of the desires/rights of the patient/customer)further with regard to this issue. Pregnancy cannot be said to begin until the fertilized egg is implanted (unless those who are nibbling away at the privacy right to abortion are able to change the definition of “pregnancy”). Therefore, dispensing the “morning after pill” should not be subject to the existing protection for those who do not wish to participate in abortions. Can anyone realistically suggest that our country should allow the denial of the morning after pill to a rape victim who has requested that pill?