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Obama to change Bush "right to conscience" rule

Reproductive rights groups are cheering President Obama's intention to rescind a "midnight regulation" issued in the waning days of the Bush administration that blocks federal funding of healthcare facilities that don’t allow their employees to bow out of medical procedures, such as abortion, to which they have moral objections. Advocacy groups last month sued the government over the so-called "right to conscience" rule, charging that it's unlawful.

The administration will publish a notice in the Federal Register next week announcing that it's planning to change the rule, the Associated Press reports

"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written it could make it harder for women to get the care they need," an unidentified Department of Health and Human Services official told the Washington Post. "It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care."

Federal law bars discriminating against healthcare workers who refuse to provide abortions or abortion referrals to patients, but the Bush reg change requires federally funded facilities to certify that they're complying with it – and both proponents and critics of the new rule agree that the way it's worded could be broadly interpreted to allow workers to also block access to other medical treatments, such as contraception and artificial insemination.
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights praised the move. “Any time, any worker at a healthcare facility can prevent a woman seeking reproductive services from getting care, information and even, a referral—and the government sanctions such conduct—it’s time for a regulatory 'do-over,'" said said Nancy Northup, the group's president. "The Bush administration claimed that this policy protects healthcare providers against discrimination, but in truth, it leaves patients unprotected and seriously violates their rights and medical needs.”

Obama on Jan. 23 reversed Bush's controversial "Global Gag rule," which cut off federal funding for international-aid groups that perform or provide information about abortions. The regulation, also known as the Mexico City Policy, had been in effect on and off since 1984.

Image of Barack Obama/Obama-Biden Transition Project via Wikimedia Commons

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