Provider Protections Set for Abortion Refusals; Critics Call Rules Vague
Byline: Sean Lengell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Bush administration has issued new protections to health care providers who refuse to perform abortions and other procedures because of religious or moral objections.
But critics say the new regulation is vague and cumbersome and would lead to patients being denied needed services and medication, including birth control, HIV testing and treatment, and mental health services.
The new provider conscience regulations are designed to strengthen existing federal laws that prohibit institutions from discriminating against individuals who refuse to participate in abortions or provide a referral for one. The administration's rule, issued Thursday, is intended to ensure that federal funds don't flow to providers who violate those laws.
Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt said. This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.
Violators could face the termination of HHS funding and could be required to return funds already received.
The administration estimates that health care providers will spend about $44 million annually in administrative costs to comply with the regulation.
The new rule takes effect Jan. 18 - two days prior to President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.
Federal protection of provider conscience rights dates back to the 1970s and since have been amended many times.
Critics say the latest update is nothing more than a last-minute effort by the Bush administration to make it more difficult for women to learn of their options regarding pregnancy. …