Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bush's new "Right of Conscience" laws

by Chloe Angyal

Rachel Maddow (rockstar!) talked a little last night about the Bush Administration’s new “Right of Conscience” rule, which would permit healthcare providers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and so on – to choose not to participate in any medical procedure they find morally objectionable. This includes, surprise surprise, abortion, as well as artificial insemination, dispensing of contraception, and so on.

Laws already exist allowing the first three kinds of healthcare providers – doctors, nurses and pharmacists – to opt out of any medical procedure they don’t morally agree with, but this new law expands that right to the and so ons. That means, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “individuals who are members of the workforce of the Department-funded entity performing the objectionable procedure.” That means anyone, down to the people who perform the least medically significant jobs, like cleaning the medical instruments at a hospital or answering the phones at a pharmacy, can opt-out of their role in providing any of these legal medical procedures to women who need them. And that means that women don’t get the information they need, and they don’t get the services to which they’re entitled.

On the surface, laws like this don’t look like such a terrible idea. After all, we all have a right not to participate in practices that we find morally abhorrent. And, you might think that as long as you have doctors and nurses and pharmacists opting-in, and still providing the actual medical services, everything will continue as usual. After all, no one who finds abortion morally objectionable becomes an abortion provider, and no one who disagrees with the idea of artificial insemination chooses to artificially inseminate people for a living.

But what happens when administrative workers and janitorial staff across 15 bordering counties, or across a whole state, invoke this rule and decide that they aren’t going to have anything to do with these procedures or services? What if the person who answers the phone at a pharmacy one Sunday morning invokes the rule and decides not to tell the frightened, shocked sixteen-year-old on the other end of the phone that they have the morning after pill in stock? These kinds of laws make it not just easy, but totally arbitrary, to limit women’s access to services to which they’re legally entitled, and puts women’s reproductive rights in the hands of total strangers, instead of in the hands of women.

Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell (rockstar also!) weighed in on the new law, and pointed out laws like this, which don’t make abortion and other reproductive rights illegal, but simply restrict access to them, disproportionately affect poor women and rural women. These women’s access to these kinds of services is already reduced, and laws like this one would continue to further whittle it away. In theory, laws like this one seem reasonable. In practice, they negatively, and disproportionately, affect women who are already disadvantaged.


At December 3, 2008 at 7:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peace be with you


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