Conscience Rule for Health Care Provides to Take Effect Jan 18
On December 18, 2008, the Bush administration issued a final rule reinforcing protections for physicians and other healthcare providers who object to providing services based on moral or religious beliefs. The most common objection is abortion-related but it may extend to HIV or gay lifestyle (for example not providing in vitro fertilization to lesbian couples). Opponents in Congress are mobilizing to rescind the move.
The regulation is designed to strengthen three major right-of-conscience laws that have been enacted since the 1970s. Health care entities that are not able to demonstrate they are in compliance with the new rule by Oct. 1, 2009, will be barred from receiving federal funding.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights will be tasked with investigating any allegations of discrimination against doctors or other professionals who refuse to participate in abortions or other procedures based on moral objections.
Some physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers have welcomed the reaffirmation of these protections, others are worried that the language is too broad and may allow any employee in the health system to effectively interfere with patient care by lodging an objection.
Some Democratic lawmakers agree, and they have pledged to approve a congressional resolution rejecting the HHS rule. Because the White House finalized the rule so late in the president's final term, Congress can overturn the regulation with a simple majority vote. President-elect Barack Obama has not signaled whether he would support such a move or whether his new administration will attempt to redraft the protections.