Abandoning Conscience Clause Protections

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently revised regulation 45 C.F.R. Part 88 by removing measures put in place by the Bush Administration to ensure that health care providers would not be pressured to participate in abortions if they had moral objections to the procedure.

Although the current Administration states that it is committed to upholding the conscience protections provided by existing federal law—the Church Amendments, Public Health Service Act, and Weldon Amendment—one wonders how committed it is to the protection of the moral beliefs of conscientious health providers—particularly since it took the teeth out of the law.

Now that the regulation has been stripped of its protection for a wide variety of health care providers, it leaves questions for nurses, medical students, and other health care workers regarding what protection will be provided if their conscience requires they refuse to help with an abortion. This step by the Administration will not make the crisis of conscience disappear. Instead, the need for protections will become even more pronounced on a state level to fill in the void left by irresponsibly retiring this federal regulation.