Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally adopted a new ‘conscience rule’ permitting “federally funded health care providers to decline to participate in services to which they object, such as abortion.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino explained that the new regulation simply re-affirmed existing conscience-clauses and did not re-write reproductive laws:
Over the past three decades Congress has enacted several laws in order to protect people who have a, who want to practice their health care according to their conscience when it comes to reproductive rights. And this new regulation will increase awareness of those laws and compliance with them but it doesn’t change any of the laws in regards to reproductive rights, so it’s just about people.
In reality, if the new regulation doesn’t explicitly re-write existing legislation, it fails to provide a clear, medically-accepted definition of abortion, expands the definition of health care providers protected by conscience regulations, and permits practitioners to deny women access to commonly used methods of birth control.
During the rule’s open comment period medical professionals rejected the new rule and expressed concern about its consequences. “Implementation of this regulation would effectively allow health care providers’ personal beliefs to override patients’ right to full disclosure of accurate information and available health care resources,” six medical associations warned in a joint statement. In a separate letter to the HHS, 13 state attorneys generals argued that “the rule was too vague about what health care procedures may be withheld.”
The new regulation has also been widely denounced by women’s health groups, “members of Congress, President-Elect Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and by over 200,000 individual commenters filing opposition to the regulations.”
These groups aren’t buying Perino’s “it’s just about people” argument. With no medical necessity for the rule, the new “clarification” provides one final gift to the right “people” — the President’s conservative base — and serves their political ends, forcing President-elect Obama to confront an abortion-related issue on day one.
Luckily, Obama can overturn the rule through a 3 to 6 month notice and comment process or Congress can act to reject it. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have already introduced legislation prohibiting HHS from implementing the new rule and Congress can pass a motion to disapprove. As RH Reality Check explains, “if the motion to disprove is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, the rule cannot be enforced or defended in court.”