Rule to Overrule “Provider Refusal” Regulation

February 28, 2009

The Obama Administration announced on Friday 27 February that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will publish a regulation that could rescind the "provider refusal" regulation.

The Center for Inquiry congratulates the Obama administration on making the right moves to rescind the “provider refusal” regulation that threatens access to reproductive health services for U.S. women. The “provider refusal” regulation was based on ideology and pandered to religious extremists who oppose not only abortion but also contraception.

The new rule will  probably allow for a 30-day public comment period.  The Center for Inquiry will issue a call to its members and friends to support the rescission, and we expect a huge and eloquent response.  When the original rule was open for comment, CFI members and friends responded overwhelmingly, contributing to the more than 200,000 comments that HHS received from governors, members of Congress, health professionals, and concerned citizens opposing the regulation—and completely ignored.

The “provider refusal” regulation requires any organization providing reproductive health services that receives federal funds to certify in writing that it will not discriminate against any employee—from receptionist to doctor—who refuses to provide a service on the grounds that to do so offends her/his religious beliefs.  The regulation was written so broadly that health care workers could refuse to provide information and services not only about abortion and contraception but also about any medical treatment they might ideologically object to, such as fertility, HIV/AIDS, and end-of-life directives.

The regulation essentially made the provider’s tender conscience a priority over care for patients.  It was also unnecessary, because there were already laws that protected providers’ rights that had worked well for years.

The Center for Inquiry commends the decision to issue a rule ending the “provider refusal” regulation and looks forward to participating in the comment process.