I was happy to hear on NPR today that the Obama administration is finally getting around to reversing the Bush administration’s so called “conscience clause”. Unfortunately, it is hard to discuss the nuanced details of the HHS rule in soundbites. NPR failed to do this well when introducing the story and on their main page, by describing the rule by using this tag line: “The “conscience clause” allowed health care workers to decline to participate in abortions and other services.”
I have to give NPR credit, they did do a good job covering the issue in the full coverage. They pointed out that conscience exceptions have been protected for more than 30 years. They also pointed out (on the radio but not in this article) that the new rule permits people to anyone even tangentially related to the delivery of health care (including cashiers, receptionists and janitors) to refuse give information or referrals to care by someone who is not religiously opposed to whatever health care that person is opposed to, whether it be fertility treatment, contraception, abortion, blood transfusions, HIV drugs, you name it.
And, health care delivery systems have to certify that they are not discriminating against any people with religious objections to any medical treatment in hiring to receive any federal funds, like Medicare or Medicaid. So, theoretically, if Christian Scientists applied to work at a surgery center, they wouldn’t be able to discriminate against them in hiring. If they refused to do any sort of surgery, participate or facilitate any sort of surgery, and refused to refer to another staff member or another facility or even give any sort of information about surgery, they could not be fired or the facility would be discriminatory. In fact, if they were not hired, the surgery center would be open to loss of federal funds and reimbursement, and costly lawsuits. This certification of hiring people who would most certainly refuse to perform their job description was not mentioned in the NPR coverage, or most other coverage.
Rachel Maddow said this fails her “Amish bus driver” test today on her show. I was thrilled that she mentioned the words “contraception” and “abortion” in her coverage of the story. I love her to death, but I wrote her a letter recently complaining about her lack of coverage of reproductive rights issues. Glad she represented today.