Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Payoffs, Part One

The Shrub gang's fanatical devotion to fanatics is continuing right up to the end.
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.
As an indication just how important this is to the WHS*, consider that
[t]he White House Office of Management and Budget received the proposal on Aug. 21 and cleared it on the same day, according to a government Web site that keeps track of the rule-making process.
What's more,
[t]o 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.
I'm prepared to assume they were not "unable" but rather unwilling, since I would argue the reason is to do a final favor to the wingnuts who are half of their dwindling base.

The thing is, federal law already prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion
and the courts have defined “religion” broadly to include “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” ...

Under the Civil Rights Act, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious practices, unless the employer can show that doing so would cause “undue hardship on the conduct of its business.”
(As sidebar, I note that you should thank two Vietnam-era draft resisters, that is, two very definitions of DFHs, named Daniel Seeger and Elliott Welsh for that protection of non-religious-based ethical and moral beliefs.)

What the Shrub gang wants to do would overturn 40 years of law, regulations, and court decisions and look to establish a new, broader standard at a single stroke, one that
[p]harmacies said ... would allow their employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and could “lead to Medicaid patients being turned away.” State officials said the rule could void state laws that require insurance plans to cover contraceptives and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.

The Ohio Health Department said the rule “could force family planning providers to hire employees who may refuse to do their jobs” - a concern echoed by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Significantly, according to senior staff at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this was undertaken without any consultation with the agency. Two members of the Commission and its legal counsel have called for the proposed rule to be withdrawn. So have
the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, 28 senators, more than 110 representatives and the attorneys general of 13 states.
Who supports it? Outside of the White House mouth-breathers, no surprise: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, a trade association of 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.” [emphasis added]
That emphasized phrase holds a key. They want not only to be able to refuse to perform abortions - they already for at least the most part have that right - but to be able to just turn people away, to be able to go from saying "We don't do that here; you'll have to go here or here for that" to "We don't do that here, go away, sinner" - and do it without risking any possible federal grants or programs. It's "give us the bucks and shut up."

I think that's one of the things I find most offensive about this whole business. Someone's conscience tells them they can't do abortions? Fine. I have no problem with that. The individual conscience is the closest thing to supreme there is in my worldview. But a first principle is that individuals have consciences. Institutions do not. Institutions, I believe, can be legitimately constrained by law in ways that individuals cannot. We can, and assuredly should, make reasonable allowances; we should, for example, accept that Catholic hospitals will follow Catholic teachings and not expect abortions to be among the services offered there so long as there is a reasonable alternative available elsewhere.

But we should not, we must not, accept that such institutions can inhibit the ability of others to obtain those same services (by, for example, refusing to do referrals) and even less should we accept that long-standing rules should be changed to allow them to do so without any cost to themselves. Conscience should be more selfless, not more selfish; it should be more about the benefit brought to others, not lessening the burden on yourself. I can't shake the feeling that what we are seeing here is less about morality than it is about money - and that is not conscience, it is convenience.

And for the Bush cabal, it's less about justice than about favoritism. And it's never about conscience.

Footnote: Some may see a contradiction between my stand here about health care personnel being involved in abortions and my previous comments about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control. I said there that any pharmacist who could not do so should not continue to be a pharmacist. But there is no contradiction: Performing abortions is not part and parcel of being a doctor or a nurse. Filling prescriptions is part and parcel of being a pharmacist. Refusing to do so for any reason that is not health-related (e.g., a drug interaction or a known allergy) is a failure to do the job.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths, a label I expect to be able to retire after January 20. Obama and his crew are corporatist centrists, but they are not, so far as anyone can tell so far, sociopaths.

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