According to a new rule released by the Obama administration Friday, health care workers can still refuse to take part in abortions if they find it morally objectionable but they cannot refuse to give contraception.
After years of debate, the Department of Health and Human Services rewrote the Bush-era Conscience Clause, essentially rescinding most of the rules that protected the conscience of medical workers.
"The Department supports clear and strong conscience protections for health care providers who are opposed to performing abortions," said the HHS.
But it added that the 2008 conscience rule that went into effect on the last day of the Bush administration was too broad and caused confusion. It was interpreted to allow medical workers to object to providing contraception, particularly emergency contraceptives that pro-lifers say cause abortion, and to refuse performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women, among other things.
The Obama administration weighed whether to change the conscience protection rules or rescind it altogether. Though the HHS said the new rule maintains and builds upon provisions of the Bush administration rule, it limited the protections to just let workers refuse to perform abortion.
"The federal provider conscience statutes were intended to protect health care providers from being forced to participate in medical procedures that violated their moral and religious beliefs," said the HHS.
"They were never intended to allow providers to refuse to provide medical care to an individual because the individual engaged in behavior the health care provider found objectionable."
Protesting the new rule, Dr. J Scott Ries, a family physician and part of the Christian Medical Association, said the changes were made without any evidence or justification.
"The administration, for example, contends that a rule change is necessary to protect access to contraception, but absolutely no evidence is presented to justify any such concern," he said Friday.
"In the process, the administration blatantly ignores the scientific evidence that certain controversial prescriptions that abortion advocates promote as contraception are actually potential abortifacients, ending the life of a living, developing human embryo. This is a critical concern for pro-life patients, healthcare professionals and institutions."
He went on to contend that the Obama administration's new rule "diminishes the civil rights that protect conscientious physicians and other healthcare professionals against discrimination."
"Losing conscientious healthcare professionals and faith-based institutions to discrimination and job loss especially imperils the poor and patients in medically underserved areas," Ries argued. "We are already facing critical shortages of primary care physicians, and the Obama administration's decision now threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care."
The new rule goes into effect in 30 days.