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Obama administration takes a different view on health care worker conscience, rewriting Bush-era regulation

Birth-control pills
Birth-control pills
Nancy L. Stockdale/Flickr

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It was a “tombstone” regulation, made by President George W. Bush on his way out of the White House in December of 2008—a regulation that would have prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers who refuse to perform or assist in care they felt violated their personal, moral or religious beliefs. The biggest issue was abortion and sterilization but the regulation was broad in its scope, potentially affecting the distribution of contraceptives, birth control pills and especially the controversial “morning after” pill. Today the Obama administration fulfilled an early promise to scrap the Bush regulation, rescinding most of the rules and replacing them with a much narrower version that leaves in place only the long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. Religious groups were immediately critical of President Obama and abortion rights groups were equally critical because the president didn’t go far enough. How much leeway should be given to the moral objections of health care workers?


David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics & a professor of biomedical ethics at the Stanford University School of Medicine