Discard Bush Medical Regs, AU Tells HHS

The Department of Health and Human Services should rescind a Bush-era regulation that gives health-care workers an unqualified right to refuse to take part in any procedure that they say violates their religious beliefs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged.

In an April 9 letter to HHS Acting Secretary Charles E. Johnson, Americans United supported President Barack Obama’s plan to rescind the rule, which was implemented by former President George W. Bush during his last few days in office.

“This regulation was a parting gift from President Bush to the Religious Right, and it ought to be returned to sender,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “The last thing this country needs is more Religious Right meddling in our health care. It is clear that this regulation is just another strategy to push a very narrow religious viewpoint on the entire country.”

Under the regulation, an HHS-funded employee could refuse on religious grounds to provide or fill psychiatric, HIV, birth control, methadone and sleeping-aid prescriptions or refuse to honor a patient’s end-of-life decree that rejects life-prolonging treatment. Such employees could also refuse to provide fertility treatments for unmarried or lesbian patients.

“Rescinding the law would pose no threat to the rights of health-care workers, and instead would serve to ensure that more individuals have access to health care,” wrote Margaret F. Garrett, AU assistant legislative director. “The goals of the current rule could more effectively be met simply through education and outreach.”