Obama Administration to Acknowledge that I Have a Conscience, Too!

BlogHer Original Post

In what was a huge blow to women's reproductive health, one of the Bush administration's last gifts to the religious right was to issue a convoluted rule through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The rule insisted that anyone who objected to abortions could not be discriminated against by hospitals or institutions that received public money. (They also changed the definition of abortion to include various forms of birth control.) Of course it makes sense that no one should be forced to do something at work that violates their beliefs. This is why the 1964 Civil Rights Act already prohibits such practices. What the rule did was say that places like Planned Parenthood could not refuse to hire someone who refused to perform even the most basic parts of their job description, and in fact would undermine the work of the organization.

Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check uses a civil lawsuit filed against a nurse in New Mexico as an excellent example of why the "conscience" rule was so egregious:

[The patient's] request: Simply to shorten the strings on her IUD for greater comfort.

The result? Nurse Olona took it upon herself to remove the troublesome device. Why? Simple, Nurse Olona told her patient:

"Having the IUD come out was a good thing [because] I personally do not like IUDs. I feel they are a type of abortion. I don't know how you feel about abortion, but I am against them. ...What the IUD does is take the fertilized egg and pushes it out of the uterus."

Hmmmm....funny....I don't think they teach this definition of abortion in medical or nursing school. But in the free-for-all, define-your-own-medical-practice era of reproductive politics of the past 8 years, anything apparently goes. Nurse Olona could instead, with respect for herself and her patient, easily have said "I can't help you with your IUD as I am uncomfortable with this form of contraception, but let me get you someone who can."

Mom's Tinfoil Hat heard a story about the Obama plans on NPR:

They pointed out that conscience exceptions have been protected for more than 30 years. They also pointed out (on the radio but not in this article) that the new rule permits people to anyone even tangentially related to the delivery of health care (including cashiers, receptionists and janitors) to refuse give information or referrals to care by someone who is not religiously opposed to whatever health care that person is opposed to, whether it be fertility treatment, contraception, abortion, blood transfusions, HIV drugs, you name it.

Again, the point of this rule is supposedly that people can act according to their conscience, except for women. We can only act according to the conscience of the religious right, since they know what is better for us than we do. Your religion doesn't teach that an abortion is necessarily murder or even that an IUD is an abortion? Well, your religion is wrong, so you have to comply with someone else's. Those someone elses, incidentally, tend to believe that the actual baby that emerges from the forced pregnancy has a right to life that does not include health care, food, or safe housing to keep it alive and well. Have a nice day, and remember, Jesus loves you, as long as you live your life according to certain fundamentalist standards.

Blah. The good news is that change is on the horizon. Cristina Page, also at RH Reality Check explains that the Obama administration has a 30 day comment period in effect to determine how to protect the rights of health care workers AND the rights of women. Planned Parenthood has an old petition supporting the revocation of this horrid rule, and I'll add more current links so that people who support true religious freedom and reproductive rights can have our say. (The opposition is already going ballistic, as one can imagine.)

Debra Haffner at Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection? is a minister and a sexologist, which is just about the coolest thing ever in my humble opinion. She wrote:

As a religious leader, I applaud the President's decision. I can appreciate that some physicians, nurses, pharmacists and so on do not want to participate in delivering sexual health services -- I just don't think they should work for federally funded programs that have as their mandate to deliver them. Blessings for one more step forward from the dark anti-reproductive health policies of the last Administration.

Here's what is great about how the rule's supporters are reacting: they reveal that this is not about protecting health care workers (and janitors) religious rights, but stopping people from using forms of birth control and accessing abortion because they find it objectionable. The New York Times ended their article on Obama's action with the following paragraph (emphasis mine):

But Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican minority leader in the House, said, “This is the third action taken by Washington Democrats in the past 38 days to weaken American rules that are meant to safeguard the sanctity of human life.”

Oh, so the rule is not about safeguarding religious rights, but stopping women from practicing their legal rights to access birth control and abortion? My bad. Probably it is not about religious rights because the religious rights of those who object to reproductive options based on the conscience and values of the woman in question are the only ones that have been under attack. Everyone else has enjoyed their religious rights for the last 35 years.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants.

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