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11/20/2004

"Refusal Clause" in Omnibus Spending Bill

Yesterday we heard about the anti-environment riders attached to the massive spending bill being negotiated in Congress. Today, it's reproductive rights under assault:

House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year...

The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection" to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.
The measure, which has long been supported by the Catholic Church (see also the Protection of Conscience Project and the "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act"), distorts protection for individual conscience into protection for corporate pharmacies, hospitals, insurers, and health care providers [Coopting Conscience - PDF]. The NYT reporting on the issue is quite poor, as there is a clear rhetorical struggle underway, with advocates of the clause calling it "conscience protection" and opponents a "refusal clause" - but the NYT refers to it as the former.

Here is the egregious state of the nation, according to Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-California):
Under current law, an individual who has a religious or moral objection to providing a service can refuse to offer it, but the law recognizes certain differences between an individual and an institution. Institutions do not have the same rights, nor should they. Health care facilities exist to provide services. It should be extremely rare when such a facility can deny anyone access to care. Even so, there are only minimal obligations on hospitals and other facilities. Under title X, they only have to tell someone what their choices are and where they can go to receive these services. And under Medicaid, hospitals and clinics will only be obligated to provide an abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
Update, 11/20/04, 4:28 AM EST: The Washington Post has more details on the provision, as well as on the anti-environment riders. The Water Resources Development Act was kept out of the final legislation, as was the effort to eliminate a pending regulation requiring nation of origin labeling for meat. The disposition of the other riders was unknown when the Post went to press - the AP reports that the bill wasn't finalized until after midnight.

 

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