Why We Vote: Obama Rescinds Controversial Bush “Conscience Clause”

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.

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Photo from Flickr.


Dennis Durband
Dennis Durband5 years ago

The essence of being an American is the freedom to disagree. That's what the First Amendment is about -- the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. No one should ever be compelled to do something against their conscience. No profession has the constitutional right to compel anyone to engage in conduct they disagree with. To take any other path is the road to tyranny. And that's exactly what we're seeing in the HHS abortion pill mandate. And for those of you who disagree: how would you like it if your employer required you to march in a pro-life rally? Would you still agree that federal protections for upholding your conscience should be eliminated? I didn't think so.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Thanks for sharing this article

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush6 years ago

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Past Member 6 years ago

Morality has it's place in our lives. There is no question of that. The problem is when you try to impose YOUR morality onto someone else's life when they're not asking you to. And in the case of healthcare, this is especially important to remember. I can agree that if a doctor has an objection to performing an abortion that he should recuse himself from performing the procedure. And that doctor is STILL ABLE TO DO SO. Just as a judge is able to recuse themselves when they perceive a personal conflict of interest (which they're supposed to do, but unfortunately don't always actually do). The problem is that the "conscience clause," as stated in the article, had the nasty side effect of allowing the bigotry (yes, I did use the word I intended to) of some people to be used as an excuse for not actually doing their job. And while it doesn't equate to their being lazy, it does equate to their needing to find another line of work if they don't like having to deal with "certain people" (perceived homosexuals, actual homosexuals, women, et al). Personally, I'm with Obama on this one.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

Tamra S., thank you -- you nailed it. I, too, am a health care provider, and we are to give care to anyone who needs it, without interjecting morality to the patient. Our own beliefs are just that, and have nothing to do with giving care.

I am for a woman's right to choose, but I do understand a nurse or doctor who feel strongly about abortion, being able to exempt themselves from participating in that procedure. That part of the regulation, having been left in, I believe is right. I have been an escort for women who are going to have an abortion, so in that capacity, I feel strongly that I want to give them support in their very difficult decision.

Paul P.
Paul P.6 years ago

Sure protect this!!!

Tom Y.
Tom Y6 years ago

Sounds like professionals could be forced into abetting practices they know are immoral and/or unhealthy -- and frankly, their freedom of conscience needs to carry more weight than someone else's self-indulgence. This could become their Gandhi moment: their opportunity to send a message via civil disobedience, a refusal to obey the anti-human imperatives handed down by draconian revolutionaries in positions of power.

Oppression, and resistance... yes, we've seen it before. We'll see it again, probably soon...

Tamra S.
Tamra S6 years ago

I'm a healthcare provider and am so glad this rule was changed. Unfortunately, some states have even more ridiculous conscience laws. One of the things that was stressed over and over in my training, was "THERE IS NO PLACE FOR JUDGEMENT IN HEALTHCARE." Whether it means providing lifesaving treatment to the drunk driver while knowing that your colleagues are treating the child he injured in the next room or treating the sex worker for the 5th STD this year without making her feel ashamed, you do your job and keep your religious or moral opinions out of it. You can give someone advise to protect their health, but you don't tell people how to live based on your own morality. It isn't always easy to keep your mouth shut. It isn't always easy to treat patients that you just don't like and give them the same care you would want a loved one to get, but that is your job. If you can't do your job, get out of healthcare. There are other fields you can work in. When people's lives are on the line, your moral judgements have no place.

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago


Amanda M.
Amanda M6 years ago

Bravo! Here's to Obama for rescinding this idiotic clause that should NEVER have been enacted in the first place! NOBODY has the right to force others to live by their religion's rules! Freedom of religion not only means ANY religion, it also means freedom FROM religion as well!

Another reason why I'm a proud Democrat!