February 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to axe a key conscience protection regulation on Friday, pro-life groups and the U.S. Catholic bishops have condemned the move, calling it a “disappointment,” “outrageous” and a “blow” to medicine and conscience rights.

The regulation, which was put in place in 2008 in the final days of the Bush administration, protected the conscience rights of health care providers who are opposed to providing abortifacient contraception, such as the Plan-B “morning-after” pill.

On Friday the Health and Human Services Department under Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, issued the new “final rule,” which leaves health-care workers of federally funded entities a narrower conscience exemption that only protects them from having to participate in abortions or sterilizations.

Americans United for Life president and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest said Friday: “This must come to an end.  No longer should the civil rights of medical professionals be held hostage to political interests.”

Yoest pointed out that while the Obama admin said on Friday that it is a “civil right” not to participate in abortion, “in the same breath” it “weakened federal regulations designed to protect that right.”

The pro-life leader said the move “underscores the necessity for Congressional action,” saying that conscience rights “must not be dependent on the whims of an Administration that has made expanding abortion central to its mission.”

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

Dominique Monlezun, National Coordinator for Medical Students for Life, called the decision “outrageous” and a “direct attack on the entire medical community’s conscience and our oath to ‘do no harm.’”

Monlezun said that the decision undermines “the constitutional rights” of health care workers. “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,” he said.

Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life, concurred, saying that by revoking the regulation, “the Obama Administration directly attacked pro-life medical professionals.”

“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.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said on Friday: “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.”

“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.”

Perkins urged Congress to pass the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and the Protect Life Act.

“Americans overwhelmingly believe that conscience rights are legitimate and must be protected,” Perkins said.

In a statement Friday Deirdre McQuade of the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called the Obama admin’s move a “disappointment.”

At the same time, McQuade said the USCCB welcomed the administration’s statement promising to “take initiative to increase awareness of the conscience statutes, work to ensure compliance with them, and require that government grants make clear that compliance is required.”

McQuade said the USCCB looks forward to working with the admin to ensure that this actually happens “so providers receive the full conscience protection they are due.”

She also urged the administration to throw its weight behind the same three pieces of pro-life legislation mentioned in Perkins’ statement - the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358), the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 361).