Proposed U.S. Government Regulations Strengthen Doctors’ Increasingly Threatened Freedom of Conscien

Would allow health care workers to refuse even indirect involvement in some procedures
Fri Aug 22, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Kathleen Gilbert

  WASHINGTON, DC, August 22, 2008 ( - The United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) today proposed regulations that would increase awareness of federally funded health care providers’ right of conscience, including their right to refuse involvement in abortion or sterilization procedures on moral grounds. Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association (CMA), praised the proposed regulations as "desperately needed" to fight back against widespread coercion of health care professionals to perform against their moral or religious beliefs.

  The regulations ensure "that the Department of Health and Human Services funds do not support coercive or discriminatory policies or practices" by highlighting three anti-discrimination laws that already protect health care workers’ First Amendment rights.  Under the proposed regulations, government fund recipients will be required to submit a written document certifying their compliance to these laws, and the HHS Office for Civil Rights will be designated to receive and assess complaints of discrimination - demonstrating that protecting the freedoms of health care workers who are discriminated against due to religious or moral beliefs is in fact a civil rights issue.

  The regulation would allow all federal health care workers to refuse even indirect involvement in certain procedures they find morally objectionable without fear of losing their job.  Some have objected that the proposed rule protects moral and religious objections to procedures other than abortion.  This is only true in the cases where the longstanding statutes being implemented by the rule have this broader scope.  For example, since 1973 Congress has required that the moral and religious convictions of individuals regarding any medical or biomedical research procedure be respected in programs receiving federal funds.

  The CMA’s Dr. Stevens claimed that two out of five CMA members reported being pressured or discriminated against at work "simply because they adhere to life-affirming, patient-protecting standards of medical ethics such as the Hippocratic Oath.  If current trends of coercion are allowed to continue, patients will not be able to find physicians who share their life-affirming values."

  Dr. Stevens noted that "The recent all-out campaign by those who oppose conscience rights to muzzle these HHS regulations actually has served to highlight the need for the regulations".

"Their comments have demonstrated the poisonous, hostile and intolerant environment they have created for healthcare professionals who practice medicine according to life-honoring standards of ethics."

  In response to the official proposal, Planned Parenthood stepped up its already massive campaign to fever-pitch, attacking the "new rule" for bringing "politics in the exam room."   Their homepage declares: "We must defeat this new rule in order to ensure access to accurate, comprehensive health care, including birth control and abortion services, for every person who wants and needs it." 

  If the regulations are finalized, all federally-funded programs, including Planned Parenthood, would be required not to discriminate against pro-life nurses and other workers who apply for a job. 

  Planned Parenthood expressed fear that "crisis pregnancy centers" run by "anti-choice zealots" will "receive a massive influx of our tax dollars to expand their deceptive operations and to attract hundreds of thousands of women who think they’ll be getting medical care but instead will receive a large dose of anti-choice ideology."

"Clearly, abortion advocates do not believe in the ‘right to choose’ if the choice is not to participate in abortion or provide drugs that can take the life of a human being," said Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America.

  Although reported an attempt to define abortion in this context to include abortifacient contraceptives, according to Kevin Schweers, representing HHS, this definition did not survive in the most recent draft of the regulations.  (

  The regulations will now undergo a 30-day public comment period.  Administrators will take these comments into account as they continue the finalization process.

  To support the regulations:
  visit (Under "comment or submission," enter keywords "provider conscience") or (Comment box provided at bottom of page)

  To view the regulation, including more information on comment submission:

  For further information, contact:
  Brenda Destro
  Office of Public Health and Science
  Department of Health and Human Services
  Room 728E
  Hubert H. Humphrey Building
  200 Independence Avenue, SW
  Washington, DC 20201
  (202) 401-2305

  Related coverage:

  Planned Parenthood in Hysterics over Bush Memo Defining Abortifacient Contraception as Abortion

  Bush Administration Seeks to Forbid Federal Aid Discrimination against Pro-Life Health Care Professionals 

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