Obama To Overturn Bush 'Conscience' Rules The controversial Bush administration policy allows health care workers to decline to provide or participate in any service that violates their conscience, such as abortion. But some worry that the language is written so broadly it could allow workers to refuse to provide everything from birth control to blood transfusions to end-of-life care.
NPR logo

Obama To Overturn Bush 'Conscience' Rules

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101241248/101269203" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Obama To Overturn Bush 'Conscience' Rules

Obama To Overturn Bush 'Conscience' Rules

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101241248/101269203" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The Obama administration is moving to overturn its second Bush administration abortion policy in a month. This time, it's the so-called conscience regulation. It lets health-care workers refuse to provide treatment or services that conflict with their beliefs.

NPR's Julie Rovner has the story.

JULIE ROVNER: Laws to protect health-care workers from having to perform or participate in abortion have been on the books for more than three decades. But Steven Aden, an attorney with the anti-abortion Alliance Defense Fund, says the new rule was needed to clarify those protections for the tens of thousands of pro-life health-care workers he represents.

Mr. STEVEN ADEN (Alliance Defense Fund Attorney): They believe that not only their livelihoods, but their consciences are at stake. They do not wish to be part of any procedure that they believe takes human life.

ROVNER: If that's as far as the Bush rule went, it might not have caused such a stir. But opponents, including attorneys general in seven states who filed lawsuits, say it goes much further. Marilyn Keefe heads reproductive health programs for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Ms. MARILYN KEEFE (National Partnership for Women and Families): The rule essentially allows individuals and institutions an unfettered ability to refuse to provide health-care services, information and referrals that offend their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

ROVNER: That could include not just abortion but also birth control, fertility services, medications for AIDS and HIV, and even end-of-life care. And it's not just doctors and nurses who could refuse to provide services, says Colorado Democratic congresswoman Diana DeGette.

Representative DIANA DEGETTE (Democrat, Colorado): That rule was so broad that even the cashier at Walgreen's could refuse to provide medication for somebody if the cashier decided that they had a religious objection.

ROVNER: So opponents of the Bush rule were relieved to hear that the Obama administration has filed the paperwork to begin the lengthy process of rescinding the regulation. But it won't be a straight repeal. The Obama administration is asking for another round of public comments. An administration source said those comments might lead to a new regulation that could better balance the beliefs of health-care workers and the rights of patients. Congresswoman DeGette says that would be fine with her.

Rep. DEGETTE: This is a conversation, I think, that we have to have, the medical community, the pro-choice community and the religious community, about how we can let people legitimately exercise their religious beliefs but at the same time, continue to give legal medications to patients.

ROVNER: But it's not going over as well with those on the other side, like attorney Steven Aden.

Mr. ADEN: The rules as written appropriately protect pro-life health-care workers. There is no reason to reconsider them, no reason for revision. It's an obvious attempt to serve special interests who are pushing for abortion and access to emergency contraception.

ROVNER: This is the second time the Obama administration has acted to reverse a Bush-era, pro-life policy. Both times, it's tried to reach out to those on the anti-abortion side of the issue and so far, it's gotten nothing but brickbats from those anti-abortion forces.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.