Faith Groups Say "No" to Conscience Clause

| by Religious Coalition
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.

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.