U.S. News

U.S. moves to rescind healthcare "conscience" rule

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration moved formally on Friday to rescind a Bush administration rule to protect health workers who refuse to provide services and information on moral grounds, which had inflamed abortion-rights advocates.

The rule took effect hours before President Barack Obama took office in January, and opponents say the previous administration rushed it through in a last-minute push in a bid to deny patients not only abortion rights, but also contraception and other care.

In a statement on its website, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said it was “proposing to rescind” the rule “in its entirety.”

“It is important that the department have the opportunity to review this regulation to ensure its consistency with current administration policy,” it said.

Bush administration officials said it merely reflected laws passed by Congress and was meant to prevent discrimination against people based on their religious or moral beliefs and to protect healthcare workers who do not want to perform abortions.

Critics and HHS staff have said the wording of the Bush “conscience” rule was vague enough to let health professionals invoke the conscience clause to deny patients contraceptives, family planning advice, and even vaccines and blood transfusions.

“The Obama administration deserves great praise for its move today to rescind this harmful rule, which serves only to undermine patients’ access to vital health care services and information, and poses especially grave risks to women’s health and lives,” Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center said in a statement.

Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Vicki Allen