One lingering question about the revocation of the midnight-hour, Bush administration “conscience” rule:
If health care providers were in such a bind when it came to “conscience” objections, why didn’t President Bush push for the new HHS regulation years ago? If it is critical, why was it done in the last month of Bush’s presidency and why didn’t it go into effect until he’d left office?
The official HHS press release notes the existence of several statutes already in place to safeguard the freedom of health care providers to practice according to their conscience, but then makes the politically-charged statement that the new regulations were put in place to “increase awareness of, and compliance with, these laws.”
President Obama isn’t advocating for overturning any of those statutes that the Bush administration said “safeguard the freedom of health care providers to practice according to their conscience.” It seems to me that all the president is doing is ordering a review of a hasty and problematically vague change in regulation.
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Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Under her leadership in Kansas, abortions dropped by more than 10%. While pro-choice, she is personally opposed to abortion and has worked to reduce the number of abortions in the very red state where she, a pro-choice Democrat, was elected twice as governor.
THE FALSE ATTACK:
While this record has brought Gov. Sebelius praise from many religious leaders, including Catholics and Evangelicals, she has drawn heat from right-wing groups. One of their main pillars of attack is based on her alleged “close” connection to Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider in Kansas who’s now facing criminal charges. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, for example, FRC claims that “she has had a close personal and financial association with the nation’s most infamous abortion doctor, George Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions.” The Liberty Council claims, “Sebelius has close ties with late-term abortionist George Tiller…Sebelius honored Tiller and his entire abortion clinic staff at the Governor’s mansion in April 2007. Tiller has contributed thousands of dollars to Sebelius and to her PAC.” Operation Rescue President Troy Newman went so far as to put it this way: “With Obama’s appointment of Gov. Sebelius to the Department of Health and Human Services, he might as well be appointing George Tiller…”
George Tiller purchased the right to attend a reception at the governor’s mansion with Gov. Sebelius by buying a table for the reception in a fundraising auction. Gov. Sebelius did not invite him to attend. Gov. Sebelius has not taken financial contributions from Tiller as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor and she appointed the state Attorney General who is prosecuting the case against him.
THE FALSE ATTACK IN THE ECHO CHAMBER:
Unfortunately, the misinformation isn’t limited to fringe groups. Major news outlets are repeating it.
New York Times: “Anti-abortion leaders also criticize her for hosting a reception at the governor’s mansion in 2007 attended by George Tiller, a prominent Wichita abortion provider. At the time, Dr. Tiller was under investigation and now is about to go on trial for 19 misdemeanor charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions, according to news reports.”
This report misrepresents the reception, which Dr. Tiller purchased the right to attend, and fails to note that Gov. Sebelius appointed the attorney general investigating Tiller for those charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions.
The Hill makes a virtually identical mistake.
Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star: “The governor also has an oddly close relationship with George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who brags on his Web site that he has performed more than 60,000 late-term abortions since 1973. He’s now facing trial for 19 counts of performing illegal abortions. A major contributor to Democratic campaigns, Mr. Tiller has been fÃªted at the governor’s mansion.”
The governor’s relationship with Dr. Tiller isn’t “oddly close” and she hasn’t “fÃªted” him. Tiller purchased the right to attend the reception at the governor’s mansion and she has not accepted donations from him as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor — key facts the story doesn’t mention.
Fox News: “Kansas-based Operation Rescue says it will launch a full-out campaign against Sebelius because, as governor, she has had the support of Dr. George Tiller, who has been indicted for allegedly performing late-term abortions on underage girls.”
Later on in the story, Fox provides a bit more context, but in the lede of this story, the connection between Gov. Sebelius and Dr. Tiller is misstated, for the reasons listed above.
Sidebar: Fox News gets it wrong on the Bush “conscience” rule: “Sebelius’ opponents point out that HHS already is in the process of undoing a Bush administration regulation that allows medical personnel to refuse to provide abortion or sterilization services based on religious or moral grounds.”
HHS is not, in fact, in the process of undoing regulations that allow medical personnel to provide abortion. While the Bush “conscience” rule (which went into effect at the midnight hour of Bush’s presidency on January 20, 2009) is currently being reviewed by the Obama Administration, there is a 30-year history of legislation, which Obama supports, that protects medical providers from being forced to provide abortions against their personal moral or religious beliefs.
CORRECTING THE RECORD:
On a more positive note, CNN, which originally misreported the Sebelius/Tiller story, has now corrected it. Originally, the CNN story read: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is a 2007 reception she held for Dr. George Tiller at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions and who once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, is presently facing charges relating to his practice.”
After FPL contacted them with the facts, they fixed the story . It now reads: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is attendance by Dr. George Tiller and his staff at a 2007 reception she held at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. The doctor, who specializes in late-term abortions and once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, won the reception at a charity auction held for the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.”
Other reporters need to follow CNN’s lead and fix factual errors in their stories on this attack. Americans deserve accurate information about the president’s pick for such an important post.
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We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again.
The hastily created and vague so-called “conscience” rule was put into place by the Bush administration in the waning hours of his presidency. Revoking this rule WILL NOT revoke the right for any health care provider to refuse to provide abortions. As with the Mexico City Policy, abortions are on another plane, due to legislation like the Hyde and Helms amendment.
Unfortunately, groups like Citizens for Community Values in Ohio are perpetuating myths about what the “conscience” clause will and will not do. In today’s action alert, they tell their readers that
“Over the weekend President Obama quietly announced his intention to rescind the conscience protection rule set in place by President Bush in December. That’s the rule that protects doctors and other health care workers from being forced to perform or promote abortions contrary to their moral objections.”
Rescinding this rule will not mean any health care professional will be forced to perform or promote abortions. Instead, health care providers will continue to do their jobs– providing men, women, and children with the health care and services they need.
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It’s being reported that President Obama will revoke a midnight-hour Bush administration Health and Human Services rule change. The so-called “conscience clause” is a federal protection (issued in December and implemented in January) to health-care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.
One of many problems with this poorly-written “conscience clause” is confusion about its scope: the vagueness of the rule could lead it to limiting everything from HIV tests to blood transfusions to emergency contraception for rape victims
Problems with the rule change had already begun cropping up. Two alarming examples from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology:
In one, a Virginia mother of two became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception. In another, a rape victim in Texas had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist.
While some on the right are claiming this a rabid pro-choice move, we beg to differ.
First of all, revisiting the Bush “conscience clause” rule does NOT mean that providers who object to performing abortions will have to provide them. No provider will have to perform abortions against their will. There is a 30-year history of legislation (three separate laws in fact) that protects such providers. (Someone needs to tell FRC, since Tony Perkins thinks “…President Obama is planning to bow down to pro-abortion forces [to] stop enforcement of laws enacted to protect the choice of healthcare providers not to participate in abortion.”)
The “conscience clause” is not only vague and potentially harmful to patients, but it also undermines the goal of reducing abortions because it potentially blocks women’s access to services like birth control. Consider: 98% of women of child-bearing age, who have ever had sexual intercourse, have used some form of contraception. Obviously, contraception is key to preventing unintended pregnancies. Preventing access to contraception runs counter to the Obama administration’s clearly stated goal of preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing abortions.
Also important to note: HHS is holding a 30-day comment period, open to the public. The Obama Administration is concerned about the consequences of the scope of the Bush “conscience clause,” but they also understand the need to clarify the existing rules and want to fully understand and address the concerns of providers.
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Sign the Petition!
Update number two: Stephen Schneck has some interesting thoughts on what’s sparking these harsh new political tactics.
Update on yesterday’s post: To support the efforts of Faithful America and Catholics United, Faith in Public Life issued this press release:
Over 3,500 Americans of faith are calling on Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) to set the record straight about his position on a recent fundraising letter sent under his name, which called into question the sincerity of the faith of seven Catholic members of Congress. The group also insists that funds raised from this misuse of religion are returned or donated to charity.
The letter claimed to be a voice for “real Catholics” and questioned whether six Democratic Catholic senators and the Speaker of the House are genuine in their faith, calling several senators’ faith a “smokescreen.” The letter was a fundraising appeal for Catholic Advocate, an organization run by former Bush advisor Deal Hudson.
Sen. Brownback’s office has said they are not pleased with the letter and do not want his name used in future appeals, but they acknowledge that permission was granted by a former staffer to send it under Sen. Brownback’s name. This has resulted in conflicting news reports about Sen. Brownback’s position on the letter. Meanwhile, Catholics across America have already received the fundraising appeal under Sen. Brownback’s name, and Catholic Advocate is continuing to raise money off of it.
Signatories of the petition– members of Faithful America and Catholics United– are asking Sen. Brownback to set the record straight and ensure that Hudson’s Catholic Advocate won’t profit from this misuse of faith, by asking for the funds raised by the letter to be returned or donated to Catholic Charities. Faithful America also contacted Sen. Brownback’s office directly to explain the petition and offer assistance in distributing a clarifying statement.
Faithful America is an online community of thousands of people of faith upholding the common good. Faithful America is hosted by Faith in Public Life. Catholics United is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Teaching.
And the story is picking up some steam!
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