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Government narrows Bush’s provider-conscience rule on abortion

The federal government changed a federal regulation (PDF) originally implemented in December 2008 to allow health workers to refuse to provide care in cases where they object to the procedure because of personal or religious beliefs, as The Washington Post first reported on Friday. According to the Post, Bush’s regulation would have removed federal funding for governments, hospitals and health plans if they did not accommodate employees who claimed conscience rights when declining to perform a procedure or provide medicine.

The Health and Human Services Department revoked the majority of the bill’s provisions but sustained federal protections for health care workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations and the formal process for filing complaints.

President George W. Bush passed the “right of conscience” bill just before leaving office, opening up a well of possibilities for health care workers to deny care based on their views on things like homosexuality, abortion and birth control. For instance, this past November, when an Idaho pharmacist refused to supply medicine to a woman whose uterus was bleeding, because she thought the bleeding could have been caused by an abortion. In January, the Idaho-Press Tribune reported that the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest filed a letter of complaint with the Idaho Board of Pharmacy after the Nampa Walgreens pharmacist declined to fill the Methergine prescription by a nurse practitioner in Boise. The medicine is used to control uterine bleeding that can be the result of childbirth or an abortion. The pharmacist asked to know why the patient’s uterus was bleeding and hung up on the nurse when she refused to disclose to preserve the confidentiality of the patient.

HHS noted in a statement that it still supports provider conscience laws, especially regarding abortion. The department also announced a “new awareness initiative” through its Office for Civil Rights. The initiative will ensure that its grantees understand the statutory conscience protections and how to enforce them for those who claim their rights have been violated.

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