The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has drafted
a new federal rule that would block clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities getting federal grants from turning down physicians and nurses who won't perform abortions or dispense the morning-after pill.
As with all matters related to abortion, debate on the proposed change is already sharply divided.
A spokesman for the federal agency characterized the proposal, still just a draft, as an effort to curb discrimination against medical professionals who object to abortion. "Over the past three decades, Congress has passed several anti-discrimination laws to protect institutional and individual health care providers participating in federal programs," agency spokesman Kevin Schweers wrote in an email to WWire. "HHS has an obligation to enforce these laws, and is exploring a number of options."
Dr. Bill Toffler,
a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University who is Catholic and won't perform abortions, welcomes the news. "You cannot ask someone to violate their integrity as a prerequisite of employment," Toffler says.
But should you have
to hire someone at a medical facility providing abortions if that person is morally opposed to abortion?
Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, who's running for U.S. Senate as a Democrat against Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), says no. "You can't ask an organization to hire someone who doesn't support the mission of the organization," Merkley says by phone from Austin, Texas
. "It's an attack on women's right to choose ... and it's completely unacceptable."
Oregon law already says no physician in the state has to perform an abortion if he informs his employer beforehand. Also, any physician in the Oregon can decline to give advice on where to seek an abortion.
This is not the first controversial rule change from the feds in the waning days of the Bush administration. The Interior Department is currently considering
relaxing gun-control regulations in National Parks. Smith, who faces Merkley in an increasingly difficult
re-election bid, supports the rule change on guns in National Parks. Merkley does not.
A spokeswoman for Smith did not return an email or two phone calls asking for Smith's comment on the proposed rule change affecting abortion. UPDATE ON FRIDAY: Lindsay Gilbride, spokeswoman for Smith, said there was "no real evidence it could be a reality ... so at this point, we aren't going to speculate on it."