Religious groups and leaders
from across the spectrum are urging the Obama administration to rescind the
"refusal clause" - also called "conscience clause"
- adopted in the closing days of the Bush administration. Those urging
rescission include the General Board of Church Society
of the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Religious Action Center of Reform
Judaism, and a group of more than a dozen religious bodies including
the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. They say the
clause is overly broad and vague, potentially harmful to healthcare
services, counter-productive to efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, and
- perhaps most compelling - unnecessary because healthcare providers already
have the right to refuse to provide abortion and other services they object
to on moral and religious grounds.
One particular statement has captured the attention of
"inside-the-Beltway" observers because it has been signed by both
pro-choice religious advocates such as Rabbi David Saperstein and anti-choice
leaders such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who
vigorously opposes access to abortion, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the
Democratic Party's guide to anti-abortion politics. Their
statement acknowledges that "conscience protections for healthcare
providers" that have been in place since 1973 are
"appropriate" in allowing providers with moral or religious
objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out of providing them,
while still allowing patients to access these services. The statement also
asks the administration to clarify the "conscience protections"
currently in place. Along with Wallis and Saperstein, three other members
(out of 25 in all) of the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships signed the statement.
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While the Obama administration is expected to rescind the rule, it should be
noted that there is strong opposition to rescission from significant
institutions, including the Catholic Church, Focus on the Family, and
Concerned Women for America, as well as fringe groups such as the Christian
Medical and Dental Associations, which went so far as to hold a press conference
at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, with members in medical attire.
According to law, the administration must consider all issues raised in
the 30-day comment period (just concluded) so the final outcome may be a
new regulation that could increase obstacles to obtaining reproductive health
services. Please watch for further updates.