Senate Dems. urge Obama to keep health conscience rules

by Michael Foust, posted Tuesday, March 31, 2009 (9 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--Two Democratic senators have sent a letter to President Obama "strongly" urging him to keep intact Bush administration regulations that protect health-care workers from being forced to take part in medical procedures -- such as abortions -- to which they morally object.

The letter from Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania notes that both men consider themselves pro-life and that they "understand that substantial disagreements exist on abortion and other related issues upon which we hold strong beliefs."

"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," the letter, dated March 20, reads. "Therefore, we strongly urge you to preserve the conscience protection rule."

In late February the Obama administration took the first step toward unraveling the Bush conscience regulations, which were put in place by the former president's Department of Health and Human Services and went into effect just as Bush was leaving office. Obama's HHS will be in charge of dismantling them.

An Obama HHS official told The Washington Post that the Bush rules were too broadly written and that the Obama administration supports a "tightly written conscience clause." The Bush rules protect health-care workers from being fired or disciplined for refusing to take part in what the workers consider to be morally objectionable actions or procedures.

The letter from Nelson and Casey asks Obama "to preserve the conscience protection rule, which defends individual health care providers and entities with moral concerns regarding specific procedures."

"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," the letter reads. "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."

Although the letter didn't mention the former president, Nelson press secretary Clay Westrope told Baptist Press in an e-mail that the letter "is largely referencing the Bush HHS regulations, but not only those regulations."

The Christian Medical Association, which supports the Bush rules, released a survey earlier this year showing that 41 percent of its members had been "pressured to compromise Biblical or ethical convictions."

The Nelson-Casey letter also noted that the men are promoting the Pregnant Women Support Act (S. 270), a bill that would, among other things: help pregnant and parenting teens finish high school; offer counseling to pregnant college students; provide counseling and shelter to pregnant women in abusive relationships; establish a national toll-free number and public awareness campaign aimed at women with unplanned pregnancies; provide grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment; provide support for parents who learn that their unborn child has Down syndrome; and eliminate pregnancy as a pre-existing condition in insurance. Casey is the sponsor and Nelson a co-sponsor. Democrats for Life also supports the bill.

"We stand ready to work with you in finding ways to reduce abortions in our country ...," the letter reads.

Following is the full text of the letter:

"As pro-life Senators, we understand that substantial disagreements exist on abortion and other related issues upon which we hold strong beliefs.

"We stand ready to work with you in finding ways to reduce abortions in our country and, in furtherance of this critical goal, have introduced S. 270, the Pregnant Women Support Act, to promote positive interventions proven to reduce abortions.

"We also urge you to preserve the conscience protection rule, which defends individual health care providers and entities with moral concerns regarding specific procedures. 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. Thank you, Mr. President, for your consideration of our views."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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