Health Workers and Religious Exemptions

By Michelle Boorstein Well, President Obama’s faith outreach team says they welcome disparate viewpoints. A group of faith leaders, including … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

Well, President Obama’s faith outreach team says they welcome disparate viewpoints.

A group of faith leaders, including five from the president’s own hand-picked faith advisory group, just released a signed document calling for the Obama Administration to be much more specific about what kind of exemptions religious health care workers should be entitled to when it comes to tasks they morally oppose.

The document, signed by a small but ideologically diverse group, comes about six weeks after the White House started the process of rescinding the so-called “conscience clause” regulation put in place last year by the Bush Administration. That regulation cut off federal funding for thousands of state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities if they do not accommodate workers’ moral or religious beliefs.

The Obama White House announced its plan to rescind the Bush regulation, but didn’t say what it would be replaced with, if anything. Now this group of eight yesterday released comments calling for the White House to be not only more specific but to reaffirm its commitment to decades-old federal laws meant to offer some “conscience” protections.

The document is part of a surge of feedback sent to the Department of Health and Human Services as a 30-day comment period comes to an end.

Signers include five members of the advisory council to the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives: Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rev. Joel Hunter; Wake Forest Divinity School Director Melissa Rogers; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

The group spans the spectrum politically but includes mostly religious traditionalists.

Those who opposed the Bush regulation to begin with would say existing federal laws already create protections for people opposed to abortion and sterilization. But this document says federal law hasn’t gone far enough to protect religious workers. It also notes that the Bush Administration regulation never defined “abortion,” leaving it unclear whether the term includes dispensing birth control pills or Plan B contraception, among other services.

Also signing the document were Catholic law professor Douglas Kmiec, Southern Baptist Convention lobbyist Richard Land and Washington and Lee law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson.

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  • Athena4

    Let’s take abortion and birth control out of the equation and look at this “religious exemption” thing from a different angle. Say that you need to get a prescription for anti-depressants filled, and the only pharmacist in your town is a Scientologist. The Scientologist is now allowed to choose not to fill that prescription because of a religious exemption clause. Or, let’s throw Birth Control Pills back into it. They are used for a variety of different gynecological problems besides just preventing pregnancy. An unmarried woman who has endometreosis is given a prescription for BCPs. Does the pharmacist have a right to question her or her doctor as to WHY she is taking these pills? Doesn’t that violate medical privacy laws? Do they refuse to fill the prescription outright, because all of the outward signs say that she is an “immoral woman”? (And yes, this DID happen to a friend of mine in Florida) Law of unintended consequences, people…

  • Athena4

    The point is that a pharmacist should either fill prescriptions for all comers or get out of the business. It’s not for them to pass moral judgement on their customers. If they want to recuse themselves, fine. But make sure that there is a backup person authorized to fill that prescription.And sometimes in small towns, there IS only one pharmacy. It happens.Why is it that people who are against government control in people’s lives are the very ones that want to control abortion and birth control?

  • HumanSimpleton

    ATHENA4 :You are exactly correct!

  • GabrielRockman

    So Obama’s tolerance does not go as far as tolerating people who have morals or religious beliefs? From the way liberals preach, you’d think they’d love the chance to cut funding for those who are intolerant. And from the way conservatives talk, you’d think they’d jump at the chance to be pro-smaller government, and get the government completely out of a sector for which it has no constitutional justification to be in.Instead of the federal government taking my money and giving it to state and local governments … why not have the federal government just take much less of my money, and let the state and local governments take more. But if we did that, the bureaucrats couldn’t get their hands on my money and turn each dollar I give them into 50 cents for the states and 50 cents for themselves. Then we might actually see some efficiency in our government.How about instead of me giving my money to McDonalds when I buy a big mac, I give it to the federal government instead, and then they give McDonalds money for the big mac. That way we can turn a 3 dollar hamburger into a 5 dollar hamburger. The solution is to let states decide what religious and moral beliefs a health care worker is entitled to. I don’t really see the constitution justifying the federal government’s role in this.

  • GabrielRockman

    Farna – separation of church state is not in the constitution. What is in the constitution is the free exercise of religion, and the prohibition of an establishment of religion. Requiring taxpayers to fund a clinic which in their mind commits murder – that would infringe upon the free exercise part. On the other hand, funding clinics which don’t do abortions, that doesn’t contradict any of the constitution’s clauses on religion. To allow a clinic to let people follow their religious beliefs is not the establishment of a religion. To allow only a specific religion, or a specific group of religions to exercise their right to practice medicine according to their beliefs, that would violate the establishment clause. Nowhere have I seen any clinic only allowing Christians to have moral opposition. As far as I know, the right to morally object is also given to Jews, Muslims, Hindu, Wiccans, Atheists, to anyone. That’s not to say that funding these clinics is actually allowed by the constitution, but its a different part of the constitution which makes federal funding of hospitals and clinics unconstitutional, regardless of whether or not they let their employees follow their conscience while performing in the medical field.

  • Freestinker

    “Requiring taxpayers to fund a clinic which in their mind commits murder – that would infringe upon the free exercise part.”———————————-GabeRock,Does that also mean that requiring taxpayers to fund a war which in their minds commits murder also infringes on free exercise?

  • Maryann261

    There should be no religious exemptions. When people who are hired to do a job, they must perform all functions. If they refuse to do so, they are unfit for the position and should be fired.

  • GabrielRockman

    National Defense is specifically a duty delegated to the federal government by the constitution. Infanticide is not a duty specifically delegated to the government by the constitution.

  • Maryann261

    Reply to GabrielRockman,The military personnel must do what they are ordered to do.The doctor who is expected to give the lethal injection must do it. Regarding someone telling a pharmacist that he/she is going to take enough of a presciption of sleeping pills to kill himself/herself, that would have to be reported. Suicide is not actually legal. If it were legal, the pharmacist would have to fill the prescription. Those who do not like all the requirements of a job and refuse to carry them out are not fit for the job. They must be fired. Personal and/or religious beliefs have no place in the workplace. If a person doesn’t want to do certain aspects of the job, the person has the option of not taking the job or finding a new one. The only other alternative is termination.

  • johnmayer76

    Are you uninsured in America? You should check out the website

  • GabrielRockman

    Maryann – I agree with you that they should be fired, it’s just not any of the government’s business. If the employer chooses to fire them, they would be wrong to claim that their right to free exercise of their religion is infringed. But if their employer is coerced by the government to fire them, they would be right in claiming that the government overstepped its powers.

  • Farnaz2

    Separation of church and state:Hospitals, clinics, etc., that do not perform abortions, etc., due to “conscience” must be permitted to retain their “consciences,” but receive NO STATE FUNDING. That is to say NONE, NOT A CENT, NADA.

  • lepidopteryx

    Anyone who goes into reproductive medicine knows that there is the possibility that they may, at some point, be required to perform an abortion. There are plenty of medical specialties that do not require the practitioner to ever have any contact with the contents of a woman’s uterus – dentistry, dermatology, podiatry, urology, gastroenterology, radiology, orthopedics, psychiatry, chiropractic, ENT, just to name a few. A pharmacist’s job is to fill prescriptions as written, not to decide which prescrtiptions his god thinks the person should have.

  • GabrielRockman

    Lepidopteryx – yes, but would it be the government’s responsibility to have you fired from Red Lobster, or would that be Red Lobster’s prerogative?

  • arosscpa

    At the end of the discussion: Do you really want to have a doctor performing a procedure on you when he is reluctant or opposed to doing so?

  • lepidopteryx

    Lepidopteryx – yes, but would it be the government’s responsibility to have you fired from Red Lobster, or would that be Red Lobster’s prerogative? Rescinding the so-called conscience exemptions won’t give the government the power to fire – it will simply remove the government’s prohibition against firing employees who refuse to perform the duties listed in their job descriptions due to religious objections.If a hospital doesn’t want to offer a full range of services due to religious connections, all they have to do is decline federal funds.

  • arosscpa

    Maryann261’s comment [There should be no religious exemptions. When people who are hired to do a job, they must perform all functions. If they refuse to do so, they are unfit for the position and should be fired.] is emblematic of the confusion surrounding how medical personnel practice. Nurses, doctors, and even pharmacists choose their practice specialty and sub-specialty.I have a professional relationship with a particular MD for 20+ years. In the beginning he served as my primary care dr. After several years he limited his practice to gastroenterology; he took care of my gastro issues from top to bottom. Later he limited his treatment of my from mouth to stomach, having another sub specialist treat the nether regions. Last week he decided that my condition has advanced to the point that he could no longer treat me within his practice’s risk/return model.As patients we value our ability to choose and change doctors at will. I believe that most medical professionals value the same freedom to specialize in particular diseases and patients, and to limit the risks and obligations as best befits the personal, professional, and economic settings.Medical personnel are not public servants. They do not take an oath serve the general public. Hospitals, labs, pharmacies, and clinics are not public agencies. They are moral and economic persons engaged in the selling of services rendered by private persons. The only public responsibility is that of due care, and specific regulation that protect public health and consumers.Abortion, birth control, etc. carry a higher percentage of technical and economic risks than other procedures or illnesses. These risks are enhanced outside of large urban centers. To demand that any doctor or pharmacist provide these services by fiat, fundamentally changes our system for healthcare delivery for reason that are quite insubstantial when viewed in terms of the total system.

  • mmm1110

    Religious exemptiona are a dangerous, slippery slope. People could come up with all kinds of ideas and try to have them deemed religious and worthy of exemptions. Religous people have gone overboard. They are a bunch of screwballs. This country is based on secular law and secular law must prevail. Ever since the religious revival in this country, the nation has regressed. Religion does not bring progress. It just reinforces ignorance.