NOTE: This election will be decided on turnout. We’ll be running posts from the past three and a half years to remind ourselves why we really do need to vote – and get our friends out too!
After two years of trying, the Obama administration finally succeeded, late last week, in rescinding the “conscience clause,” a federal regulation designed to protect pharmacists and health care workers who want to refuse to provide care based on moral or religious grounds. This often translated into pharmacists being able to deny their customers contraceptives or HIV medications, and health care workers refusing to perform in-vitro fertilizations for lesbians or single women. An ambulance driver in Chicago even rejected a woman’s need for transportation for abortion, and there were reports of drugstore workers refusing to sell condoms to men they perceived to be gay.
The new rule only leaves space, which is far less controversial, for doctors and nurses who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or sterilizations. Health care workers who feel that their rights have been violated can also file complaints.
As the Washington Post points out, this is likely to spark intense debate, especially since Republican legislators are trying to ensconce these regulations in law. The Bush regulation, which was put in place in the last days of his presidency, would have cut off federal funding to institutions that did not comply with these conscience rules. One of the most commonly cited objections to the regulation was that the rules extended far beyond health care workers, allowing receptionists to refuse to make appointments for abortions and janitors to decline to clean up operating rooms where abortions were performed.
This is a clear victory for women’s ability to access abortion, and more generally for people to gain access to contraceptives, HIV medications, and other procedures to which some may morally object.
“Without the rescission of this regulation, we would see tremendous discrimination against patients based on their behavior and based just on who they are,” said Susan Berke Fogel of the National Health Law Program, an advocacy group based in the District. “We would see real people suffer, and more women could die.”
But some Republicans are, clearly, eager to undermine this step forward. We will continue to watch what happens in Congress, and keep you posted on future choice victories or encroachments on women’s rights.
Photo from Flickr.