As Rachel Maddow reports, the Bush Administration is seeking to add a broad new “right of conscience” ruling that would permit medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control. Rachel Maddow interview on reproductive rights ruling

For more than 30 years, federal law has dictated that doctors and nurses may refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion. This ruling is being interpreted so broadly by the outgoing head of Health and Human Services that reproductive health advocates say that it could encompass the workers who clean the instruments, as well as pharmacists, counselors and others.

The “morning-after” pill, a form of emergency contraception is the target of much of the pro-life movement’s ire.  The pill prevents an embryo from implanting in the uterus.

As written, the ruling could apply to nearly 600,000 workers including 58,000 pharmacies. While abortion is a difficult subject and President-elect Obama has characterized in that way, he has also said that he would support a woman’s right to choose.  Following his election, President Obama could overturn this ruling but would have to post new regulations, open the proposed regulation for public comment for a number of months and then issue a final ruling.

Of course, every person has the right to their own view on abortion, contraception, and other forms of family planning. However, if that viewpoint infringes on the health and safety of a patient, then the issue moves from one of medical ethics to one quite literally at times of life and death.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) called for limits on the “conscience clause” and cited several of examples of problems with the clause. In one case, a Texas pharmacist rejected a rape victim’s prescription for emergency contraception. In California, a physician refused to perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. (In August, the California Supreme Court ruled that this refusal amounted to illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.) And in Nebraska, a 19-year-old with a life-threatening embolism was refused an early abortion at a religiously affiliated hospital.

President-elect Obama has already promised to overhaul the healthcare system in this country. As he does so, I hope that he will ensure that reproductive health and family planning care are affordable and accessible to women and men in the U.S. It is unfortunate that in its waning days, the Bush Administration is trying once more to undermine that goal.

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