George W. Bush’s Plan B To Prevent Women’s Health Care

On tonight’s show, Rachel Maddow interviewed Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who teaches politics and African-American history at Princeton University, about the “Right of Conscience” rule that soon-to-be former Pres. Bush is pushing through for all entities that receive federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Most people probably don’t realize the sweeping consequences this “conscience exemption” could have. As Maddow pointed out in her interview setup, the right to opt out of performing an abortion, or directly participating or assisting in an abortion procedure, has always existed. But this rule would go well beyond that, in terms both of the employees and the procedures that would be covered [emphasis mine]:

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.

It also seeks to cover more employees. For example, in addition to a surgeon and a nurse in an operating room, the rule would extend to “an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments,” the draft rule said.


Health and Human Services Department officials said the rule would apply to “any entity” that receives federal funds. It estimated 584,000 entities could be covered, including 4,800 hospitals, 234,000 doctor’s offices and 58,000 pharmacies.


The HHS proposal has set off a sharp debate about medical ethics and the duties of healthcare workers.

Last year, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said a “patient’s well-being must be paramount” when a conflict arises over a medical professional’s beliefs.

In calling for limits on “conscientious refusals,” ACOG cited four recent examples. In Texas, a pharmacist rejected a rape victim’s prescription for emergency contraception. In Virginia, a 42-year-old mother of two became pregnant after being refused 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. [So much for exceptions to save the life of the mother.]

“Although respect for conscience is important, conscientious refusals should be limited if they constitute an imposition of religious or moral beliefs on patients [or] negatively affect a patient’s health,” ACOG’s Committee on Ethics said. It also said physicians have a “duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request.”

As broad as this rule is, it could potentially be exercised in the context of many other medical procedures to which a given employee objected on moral or religious grounds: blood transfusions and surgery in general (opposed by Jehovah’s Witnesses), anesthesia, vaccinations, removal of ovaries or uterus, stem cell research, and providing terminal sedation to dying patients.

I’m sure others could up with many more.

As Maddow said, “They can’t make abortion illegal, so they’ll make it impossible.”

5 Responses to “George W. Bush’s Plan B To Prevent Women’s Health Care”

  1. Annie says:

    The rule violates the Code of Ethics with Interpretive Statements for Nurses as promulgated by the American Nurses Association. (The CoE is available for viewing only on the ANA website).

    Moreover, state boards of nursing regulate nursing practice, and the rule violates statutes which require nurses to provide care to all patents, irrespective of differences in religious and ethical beliefs.

    However, the vast majority of nurses practice as employees, and it’s employer policies and procedures that concern me. They often undermine nurses’ practice autonomy and accountability, and so I worry that religious-based hospitals and women’s health clinics will impose nursing policies and procedures which deny women needed health care and counseling.

    Nurses cannot practice nursing and cannot and do not advocate for patients when non-nursing third parties run active interference.

    But who am I? Just a nurse – no one listens – until they and their loved ones suffer preventable harm or death from the absence of professional nursing.

  2. DrGail says:

    This whole issue just frosts my wheaties. In essence, the “Right of Conscience” lets someone put religion (or anything else, I suppose) ahead of doing one’s job. If taken to its logical extreme, a cop could refuse to arrest a drug dealer because she believes the drug sentencing laws to be overly harsh. Even the Americans with Disabilities Act, designed to help people with disabilities obtain and keep a job, requires the employee to fulfill the major tasks comprising the job.

    The “Right of Conscience” enables insubordination, if one’s “conscience” runs counter to a work task or assignment. (“Oh, I’m sorry, I know I’m a typist but it’s a matter of conscience for me not to risk breaking a nail, so I’m afraid I can’t do any typing.”) I’m surprised the Chamber of Commerce isn’t actively opposing this one, since it abrogates rights of employers.

    I take a very hard line on this issue: If part or all of your job requirements are objectionable to you, FIND ANOTHER JOB! (And lest you think this unreasonable, I will tell you that I have done precisely that: I could not in good conscience continue working for a pharmaceutical company because of some of their business practices, so I quit. Easy as that.)

  3. And what is it that leads any of us to decide whether this rule or any other is right or wrong, good or bad?

    Do you really want doctors, nurses and pharmacists who go to work promising, “Trust me, I’ll act against my conscience?”

    Even the most utilitarian of us should be able to see that is ethical to make laws to forbid an action, but only rarely ethical to force an action against a person’s will.

    Remember the lobotomies given to unruly girls in the past because their guardians demanded it ( like Ted Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary, who was embarrassing her family). Remember the lawfully ordered involuntary sterilizations of men and women ordered by State law in the last century.

  4. DrGail says:

    B.N.: Lucky you if you never, ever, have to do anything contrary to your conscience in the course of doing your job. You must have been very successful at finding a job that doesn’t require you to do anything which offends your conscience. Perhaps you could explain to pharmacists, for example, that there are plenty of jobs in nursing homes and the like if they are opposed to any form of birth control. And, God knows, there’s a nursing shortage everywhere so there’s absolutely no reason for any nurse to work where he/she must participate in abortions.

    It is a red herring to state Do you really want doctors, nurses and pharmacists who go to work promising, “Trust me, I’ll act against my conscience?” In the absence of the “Right of Conscience” rule, no one was required to act against their conscience. They were simply required to do their jobs. If their consciences were troubled by certain aspects of their jobs, they were perfectly free to request a transfer or seek employment elsewhere. This is the same choice anyone and everyone has, so why should providing birth control or participating in abortions be any different?

    Before you answer that question, consider first your opinion of Vietnam era draftees seeking conscientious objector status.

  5. The family members of all of the people who were murdered by George W. Bush must be “glad Bush is done” (Poll: 75% Glad Bush is done). For example, Mike Connell (indicated below), and more than 4,000 U.S. service members were murdered by Bush.

    “Bush Insider Who Planned To Tell All Killed In Plane Crash: Non-Profit Demands Full Federal Investigation . . . WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Michael Connell, the Bush IT expert who has been directly implicated in the rigging of George Bush’s 2000 and 2004 elections, was killed last night when his single engine plane crashed three miles short of the Akron airport. Velvet Revolution (‘VR’), a non-profit that has been investigating Mr. Connell’s activities for the past two years, can now reveal that a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how he can tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that George Bush and Dick Cheney would ‘throw [him] under the bus’” (Posted by Curly. (2008, December 22). Witness to Bush Crimes Dies Under Fascinating Coincidence. Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    “Michael Connell Cancelled Two Flights on Suspicion his Plane may be SABOTAGED !!!” (Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    “Bush Whistleblower[,] [Mike Connell,] Killed In Mysterious Plane Crash” (Zharkov. Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    “The death of Republican ‘IT guru’ Mike Connell last Friday in a fiery plane crash has been the subject of intense speculation online about whether it might have been murder. . . . ‘Some say Connell was about to reveal embarrassing details involving senior members of the Bush Administration,’ Taylor explained, ‘including their involvement in destroying incriminating emails and rigging elections. . . . He was an experienced pilot. Was it an accident, or murder?’ . . . A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell’s life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife” (David Edwards and Muriel Kane. (2008, December 23). Ohio TV station: Was Connell crash an accident or murder? Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    “I believe Mike Connell was murdered” (Barbtries. Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    “What I believe is that the Bushies killed [Mike Connell]” (Barbtries. Retrieved December 26, 2008, from

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook