Obama administration overhauls health care conscience clause

A Caduceus symbol that represents the medical profession.

Balancing the rights of health care workers and the rights of patients is key to Obama's conscience clause update. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Liz/The Misanthropes Club)

In parts of the U.S., conscience clauses exist within health care laws that permit health care workers to decline performing procedures that violate their religious beliefs. Some critics claim that following such conscience laws leads some health care workers to violate the Hippocratic Oath that they must treat patients fairly and ethically. Now may of those workers will no longer be able to site the conscience clause, reports the Washington Post. The Obama administration moved to rescind most of such federal regulations on Friday.

Conscience clause was instituted by George W. Bush

During President George W. Bush’s final days in office, a conscience clause was inserted into laws pertaining to health care workers. Concerns over providing emergency contraception, treating homosexual patients and prescribing birth control to single women were cited as reasons for the conscience clause by the Bush administration.

The Obama administration considered such rules “unclear and potentially over-broad in scope.” The new version of the conscience clause, which goes into effect in 30 days, removes the above exceptions but maintains long-standing federal protection for those health care workers who refuse on conscience/religious grounds to perform abortions and sterilizations. The process through which health care workers can file complaints was also retained.

Regulating the use of federal funds

Under the Bush regulations, federal funds to state and local governments, hospitals, health plans and clinics were cut off if the organizations did not accommodate health care workers who exercised religious conscience in declining to perform procedures.

Under the Obama administration’s overhaul, definitions within the conscience clause are more clearly focused. Procedurally, matters of women’s health have received greater attention. Under the new regulation, roadblocks to obtaining abortion, contraceptive and fertility treatments will be lessened significantly.

A statement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services speaks to the balance the Obama compromise has strucke :

“The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. … The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process.”


Regulation for the Enforcement of Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Laws

Washington Post

Wikipedia entry for conscience clause (medical)

Lou Dobbs’ story on the conscience clause

Other recent posts by bryanh