Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Abortion and Conscience

In the 1970s, the "church amendments" were passed. These are laws (or regulations?) which protect medical workers from discrimination due to their position on abortion or sterilization or anything else which might offend the doctor's or nurse's conscience. If a group (a hospital, clinic, med school, whatever) accepts federal funds in any way, shape, or form, the group cannot use a person's beliefs about abortion to influence his firing, hiring, promotion, raises, etc. These clauses were intended to ensure that no doctor or nurse was forced into choosing between his job and his conscience which forbid him to help with (or advise for) abortions.

In 1996 a law was made that said the government could not discriminate against a hospital or med school which refused to teach how to do abortions.

In 2005 and ever year since then, the budget for the Health and Human Services Department has included an amendment stating that funds may not go to any program that discriminates against pro-life doctors or hospitals or programs.

In the fall of 2008, a rule was proposed which would establish the amendment mentioned in the previous paragraph. This rule was an attempt to balance the rights of patients and the rights of providers. When govt funds are involved, patients should be allowed to obtain legal services (such as abortions). When govt funds are involved, doctors should not be coerced into providing abortions or advising abortions when that would be contrary to what their conscience permits.

Health and Human Services now believes that this rule will restrict people's freedom of access to care they wish to receive. HHS believes that this "freedom of conscience rule" is contrary to the Obama Administration's policy. In other words, the current administration doesn't care if a doctor is coerced into providing an abortion or a sterilization, so long as we ensure that everybody has access to information and services from the first doctor a patient may happen to visit.

Rescinding this rule would not automatically undo the church amendments or the other safeguards in place from 1996 and 2005. It does seem a step in the wrong direction, though, to rescind the rule. My synopsis here is admittedly brief and lacking in the precision of legalese. More information can be found and comments can be made at the website for government regulations.

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