The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is urging repeal of a federal regulation that seeks to protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical employees who refuse to participate in care that violates their moral or religious beliefs.
The Obama administration has indicated its intent to rescind the “Provider Refusal Rule” and is allowing an official 30-day period of public comment on the issue.
In an “Action Alert” posted on the GBCS web site, Linda Bales, director of the Board’s Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project, insists that the rule, enacted during the George W. Bush administration, “opens the door for health-care workers…to arbitrarily refuse to provide services such as contraception, blood transfusions, infertility treatment and family planning counseling.” (More from the GBCS Faith in Action newsletter is here.)
Church and Society’s call for rescission puts the United Methodist board at odds with several medical organizations that have banded together in defense of the conscience rule, including the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, Christian Pharmacy Fellowship International, the Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants, and the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses.
Together, these medical, religious, and public policy organizations have launched the web site, Freedom2Care.org.
Although several previous federal laws are intended to allow health-care-related conscience exceptions, often these laws “were not being followed,” according to attorney Casey Mattox of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom. (Use the audio player below to listen to an interview with Mr. Mattox, produced by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.)
The Bush administration Department of Health and Human Services issued the expanded rule (PDF) last year “to ensure that, in the delivery of health care and other health services, recipients of Department [of Health and Human Services] funds do not support coercive or discriminatory practices in violation of [previous federal laws].”
The expanded rule, according to information published in the March 10, 2009 Federal Register (PDF), was intended “to balance the rights of patients in obtaining legal health care services against the statutory rights of providers…not to be discriminated against based on a refusal to participate in a service to which they have objections. Thus, the Department imposed an additional certification requirement [for entities receiving HHS funds].”
In other words, the rule requires such entities to specifically certify that they are in compliance with previous federal legislation.
David Gushee, a distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights (and also an Obama supporter in the 2008 election), is disappointed that the new administration would act to repeal the rule.
“Christian conscience requires me to insist that religious institutions and professionals not be required as a condition of accreditation, or employment, or contact with federal dollars, to actively facilitate or perform deeds that their conscience forbids them from doing,” he wrote in USA Today.
Lifewatch, the United Methodist pro-life caucus, also believes the Provider Refusal Rule should be allowed to stand. The group is encouraging pro-life Methodists readers to submit comments in support of the policy.
UPDATE: Late on April 2, the U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the 2010 budget resolution that would have would have protected the rights of medical professionals. Three Democrats sided with 38 Republicans in voting for the amendment. (Roll call here.)
Two of those Democrats, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, had earlier sent a letter to Pres. Obama urging him to not rescind conscious clause protections.
We believe it is very important that federally funded health care providers and entities not be discriminated against because they refuse to participate in procedures or activities which are a violation of their consciences. Such providers and entities should not be forced to participate in any activities violating their beliefs in order to continue providing vital health care services.
Discriminating against health care providers because of their consciences or forcing coercion into their practices would be a substantial deviation from our shared goal of reducing abortions in America. Therefore, we strongly urge you to preserve the conscience protection rule.
In a Christian Doctors Digest interview posted below (audio), Casey Mattox of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom (part of the Christian Legal Society) explains the Provider Refusal Rule and discusses how it applies to healthcare professionals.
|•||Conscientious objections | Alan Sears, Alliance Defense Fund|
|•||United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker|
|•||The Sanctification of Human Life — chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmit (Zondervan, 2004)|