Bush is no more on the scene. But his legacy continues to haunt Americans in many ways. Some doctors threaten to quit practice if the Obama administration repeals a law that enables them to deny care conflicting with their beliefs.
According to a survey conducted for the Christian Medical Association, "90 percent of those surveyed said they will quit their practices before violating their conscience," said David Stevens, the group's executive director.
AdvertisementThe rules took effect on former President Bush's final day in office.†
Many 'conscience-related' laws in various states in the USA date back to the seventies, after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade in 1973.
"The idea was that when abortion moved from being an illegal procedure to legal, and hence something that you might offer in a hospital, there was a move to protect providers ó usually framed as physicians, but sometimes they're more generally written ó from having to participate in abortions," said Nancy Berlinger, deputy director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y.
But conscience laws are not always abortion-specific. Many reference sterilization; some are silent, allowing practitioners to exercise their right to opt out of providing sometimes controversial end-of-life care, in vitro fertilization, or even some birth control pills that some practitioners insist cause very early abortions by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman's uterus.
Joxel Garcia, who was assistant secretary for health in the Bush administration and helped write the regulations now at issue, told National People's Radio the regulations give health care workers "a mechanism to seek help" through the Department of Health and Human Services.
But Berlinger, like many other opponents of the rules, thinks they are so vague that they would let any health worker object to providing any service at any time for any reason ó even reasons that don't necessarily stand up to scientific scrutiny.
"Words like belief," she said, "when you talk about them in the context of health care, aren't just anything you might think of. They have to be defensible. And a false belief about science or the promotion of ambiguity where things can be disambiguated," as in the idea that birth control is equal to abortion, "is not ethical."
All of which puts the Obama administration in a tight spot. President Obama has been eager to find a middle ground in the touchy abortion debate. Administration officials can try to rewrite the rules, which will undoubtedly anger abortion-rights and other women's health groups. Or they can repeal them, which will anger anti-abortion groups.
A decision is expected later this summer.