Obama to Rescind Bush ‘Conscience’ Rule Regarding Abortion

February 27, 2009 - 11:21 AM
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Washington (AP) - The Obama administration is moving to rescind a federal rule that reinforced protections for medical providers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on moral grounds, an official said Friday.
 
A Health and Human Services official said the administration will publish notice of its intentions early next week, and open a 30-day comment period for advocates, medical groups and the public. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official notice has not been completed.
 
The Bush administration instituted the rule in its last days, and it was quickly challenged in federal court by several states and medical organizations. As a candidate, President Barack Obama criticized the regulation and campaign aides promised that if elected, he would review it.
 
Abortion opponents hailed the Bush regulation, saying it clarified federal policies and raised awareness about the rights of medical providers to follow their consciences. But abortion rights advocates said it could reduce access to other services -- allowing a drug store clerk to refuse to sell birth control pills, for example.
 
Federal law has long forbidden discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform abortions or provide referrals for them. The Bush administration's rule requires institutions that get federal funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights. It was intended to block the flow of federal funds to hospitals and other institutions that ignore the rights of religious and moral objectors.
 
The Obama administration supports the underlying federal laws that protect conscience rights, said the HHS official.
 
But the administration was concerned that the Bush regulation could also be used to refuse birth control, family planning services and counseling for vaccines and transfusions.
 
"The administration supports a tightly written conscience clause," said the HHS official. "While we are concerned about the Bush rule, we also understand there might be a need to clarify existing laws."
 
The administration will review comments from the public before making a final decision. Options range from simply repealing the regulation to writing a new one with a narrower scope.
 
The administration's move was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.