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What Ever Happened to Repealing the Bush Provider Conscience Clause?

Written by Megan Carpentier for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule that allowed nearly anyone in the medical industry to deny women access to reproductive health services -- let alone referrals to alternate providers -- if the professional had a religious objection to the service sought by the patient, women’s health advocates gasped at the outgoing Administration’s audacity.

To add insult to injury, the “provider conscience law,” which allows providers not only to refuse to engage in activities that violate their religious beliefs but to actively enforce those beliefs on women by denying them further access to providers willing to provide medical services without those beliefs, went into effect the very day that President Barack Obama was inaugurated: January 19, 2009.

The Obama Administration promised speedy action on its repeal, even as it took immediate efforts to sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law and rescind the so-called global gag rule, which prohibited NGOS that provided counseling or referrals for safe abortion services or advocated for changes in abortion laws from receiving U.S. international family planning funds.

Unlike the global gag rule, which Obama could rescind by Executive Order, repeal of the  provider conscience rule would require a more technical solution. But despite earlier promises, the conscience rule remained in place, even as the health care debate was waged in Washington as underscored by the first lawsuit filed on the basis of the regulation. Read more