April 9 is the last day for public comment on President Obama's intention to reverse the "conscience clause" inserted into the Department of Health and Human Services regulations in the last days of the Bush Administration.
This language broadened and confused the right of health care providers to refuse any treatment or information that is objectionable to their religious or moral views.
Care provider exemption provisions already exist in HHS regulations, but the provider is also obligated to refer the patient to another provider who will provide treatment and/or information.
The Bush "conscience clause" obscures this obligation, raising questions about whether it could limit everything from HIV tests to blood transfusions to emergency contraception for rape victims.
Critics charge that the Bush regulations could increase unplanned pregnancies, for instance, if a provider is morally opposed to contraception and does not refer the patient.
The United Church of Christ has supported women's full access to family planning, including information about contraception, access to acquiring birth control, and safe and legal abortion.
The Rev. Loey M. Powell, co-team leader of the Cleveland Based Program Team in Justice and Witness Ministries, noted that the UCC supports the rescinding of the conscience clause as an extension of health care rights.
As a founding faith group of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), the UCC has a 35-year history of support for women's reproductive rights and health as well as the right of health care providers to exercise their own religious or moral discretion.
The following guide is offered as an introduction to the issue of conscience in health care: "In Good Conscience: Guidelines for the Ethical Provision of Health Care in a Pluralistic Society." UCC chaplain and professor of Christian Ethics at Lehigh University, Rev. Lloyd Steffen, was a member of the working group that researched and wrote the guide.
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