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PostPosted: 08 Oct 2008, 12:55 
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OFFICE OF PUBLIC POLICY OBJECTS TO PROPOSED HHS REGULATION
By Ronald A. Lindsay

In a bold move in the waning days of the Bush administration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has issued a proposed regulation that would greatly expand the ability of health care workers to refuse to provide services because of their religious beliefs. This regulation could have a serious adverse impact on patient care. The thin rationale for the proposed regulation, known as the “Provider Conscience Regulation,” is that supposedly there is confusion about the requirements of federal law and some individuals might be reluctant to enter the health care professions because they fear they would be forced to perform procedures to which they object. In announcing its proposed rule, HHS supplied no empirical data to support these assertions.

The proposed regulation effectively gives health care workers an absolute and broad right to refuse to provide or participate in any service to which they object. The regulation states that it will apply to “any activity with a reasonable connection to a procedure” to which the health care worker objects. The regulation itself indicates it could cover a worker who refuses to clean surgical instruments because they may be used in an operation that offends his “conscience.” Moreover, the regulation makes no effort to balance the needs of the patient with the objections of the nurse, pharmacist, or technician. This places the regulation in stark contrast to other laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, which do not permit workers to refuse to provide services if that refusal has significant adverse consequences for others. The regulation also would impose onerous reporting and certification requirements on health care institutions—resulting in tens of millions of dollars in extra expenditures.

The proposed regulation would affect all those with health care needs, but would have an especially severe impact on women and their reproductive rights, especially in light of the recent trend by pharmacists and others to refuse provide emergency contraception based on the erroneous and scientifically unsupported belief that this means of preventing pregnancy results in an abortion. Because the regulation provides no definition of “abortion,” the “conscience” of the objecting health care worker can define it as s/he sees fit.

The Office of Public Policy for the Center for Inquiry has vigorously opposed the Provider Conscience regulation since it was first announced, and has helped to organize pubic opposition to implementation of the regulation. On September 25, 2008, the OPP submitted official comments analyzing and criticizing the proposed regulation. The OPP’s comments, for example, pointed out that there was no factual record to support the proposed regulation and the proposed regulation is inconsistent with existing federal law on employment discrimination.

A copy of the OPP’s comments may be found at: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/images/ ... ent1_2.pdf

Ronald A. Lindsay is Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Inquiry and Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

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