The lame duck period of any politician’s career can be a revealing time. So long as a politician faces the prospect of re-election, there will always be suspicion that his actions are less a reflection of his true beliefs than they are of what he calculates will be to his political advantage. Once the specter of re-election is removed, however, a politician becomes more free to let his true convictions (or lack therefore) show forth. History provides numerous examples of this. And now we have another:
A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job-discrimination laws.
The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Officials at the Health and Human Services Department said they intended to issue a final version of the rule within days. Aides and advisers to Obama said he would try to rescind it, a process that could take three to six months.
To avoid the usual rush of last-minute rules, the White House said in May that new regulations should be proposed by June 1 and issued by Nov. 1. The “provider conscience” rule missed both deadlines.
Under the White House directive, the deadlines can be waived “in extraordinary circumstances.” Administration officials were unable to say immediately why an exception might be justified in this case.
The proposal is supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals.
Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said that in recent years, “we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.”