Medical Providers Urge Obama to Save 'Conscience' Rule

Doctors from across the country have come to Washington to try to save a federal regulation that gives added protection to medical workers who choose not to perform certain procedures, like abortion, that they morally object to.

"It is open season on healthcare professionals of conscience," said David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association. "Discriminate at will."

Though a number of "provider protection" laws have been on the books for decades, some doctors complained they weren't being enforced. So just before he left office, President Bush enacted a federal regulation calling for better enforcement and mandating that some medical schools and employers actually certify their compliance in writing.

"They are very broad. They are broader than any kind of rule that has existed on the subject before," said Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center. "They are very heavy handed, and I would be guessing, but I think that they were ideologically motivated."

Obama announced a month ago that he was reviewing the regulation. The White House said in a statement that "this issue requires a balance between the rights of providers and the health of women and their families, a balance that the last-minute Bush rule appears to upset."

Thirty organizations have banded together, sending a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting before he decides, possibly this week, whether to repeal the conscience clause regulation.

The Christian Medical Association cites a poll it commissioned that concluded 87 percent of Americans believe it's important that no health care provider be forced to participate in procedures they find morally objectionable.

"If I am faced with the choice between losing my job and being forced to perform an abortion, I will leave the practice of medicine," said Sandy Christiansen, a medical director of Care Net Pregnancy Center in Maryland, part of a network of centers that counsel pregnant women on alternatives to abortion.

Those who support the repeal of the regulation say that won't be necessary.

"The balance between certainly an individual's conscience and the patients who need the services is one that is tricky to maneuver and I think in this country we have done that very well," Waxman said.

Other issues covered by the regulation include embryonic stem cell research and contraception.