Taking another step into the abortion debate, the Obama administration today will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows healthcare workers to deny abortion counseling or other family planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs, according to administration officials.
Seven states, including California, Illinois and Connecticut, and two family-planning groups have filed lawsuits challenging the Bush rule. They argue that it sacrifices the health of patients to the religious beliefs of medical providers.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has reported cases, such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant after she was denied emergency contraception. In Texas, according to the group, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist.
The Obama administration does not challenge the underlying premise of conscience rules, but the Bush-pushed regulations in late 2008 are overbroad and unncessary.
On Thursday officials stressed that before the administration finalizes the rollback, a standard 30-day comment period seeks input from people across the ideological spectrum.
“We believe that this is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful process where all voices can be heard,” said one official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the policy change.
The officials said the administration would consider drafting a new rule to clarify what healthcare workers could reasonably refuse to do for their patients.
For more than 30 years, federal law has allowed doctors and nurses to decline to provide abortion services as a matter of conscience, a protection that is not subject to rule making.
Additional resource: National Women’s Law Center information on the regulations