Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Obama's Conscience Puzzle

Last week President Obama tried to pacify the right-wing by promising that the constitutional right to an abortion will continue to be difficult to obtain for many American women:

"And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place."

But the "misunderstanding" was not cleared up. Many are still confused about the question of abortion funding, as well as about exactly which federal conscience law Obama was referring to. Below are brief summaries of 3 different conscience rules. Please vote in the comments on the one you think Obama had in mind, because I have no clue.

1. Bush's Provider Conscience Rule -- The federal conscience rule that Bush implemented in the last days of his term - the Provider Conscience rule - "has the potential to limit services for birth control, HIV/AIDS, abortion, sterilization and just about any procedure that an individual or entity opposes."

Back in February, Obama promised that he would fully repeal this law. The Obama Administration began the process of rescinding the rule in March. Pro Lifers have since protested vigorously. In a White House meeting with members of the Catholic press, Obama promised that he would deliver a "robust" conscience law, and he promised that it would not be weaker than Bush's Provider Conscience Rule.

Although the process of repealing Bush's rule was begun back in March, here it is September and the rule still has not been repealed (despite misleading language from the President). Is this the federal conscience law that "will remain in place?"

2. The Capps Amendment -- The Conscience Rule in HR3200 -- Or was Obama referring to the Capps Amendment? The conscience rule in the America Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200) will become law only if and when the health care reform bill passes. In a letter to Minority Leader Boehner, Congresswoman Capps offers an explanation of the Capps Amendment:

The amendment I offered preserves the status quo in abortion policy. Specifically to your point, no doctor or hospital or even insurance plan can be required to participate in providing or covering abortion services. No federal laws are weakened by my amendment regarding conscience protection or refusal to provide or pay for abortions. In fact, the Weldon Amendment, specifically cross-referenced in my amendment, is extended to cover private plans in the Health Exchange - a protection that goes beyond current law.

3. The Weldon Amendment -- The Weldon Amendment to which Lois Capps refers -- and which her amendment would actually strengthen -- is the federal conscience rule that was in place before Bush's draconian rule was passed. The Weldon Amendment first became law in 2005 and has been renewed or extended every year since then.

Under the Weldon Amendment, a “physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility” may refuse abortions, counseling, or referrals, even in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency.