Last night Rachel Maddow spoke with Princeton University professor and reproductive rights advocate Melissa Harris-Lacewell about the Bush Administration’s impending HHS regulation that will permit "medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare
workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable including abortion, possibly even including artificial insemination or birth control." The discussion begins at 1:30 in this clip:
With 48 days left of the Bush administration, it is time, once again, for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s "Lame Duck Watch" because somebody’s got to do it. Quack, indeed. Today we learned the lamest of lame ducks plans to announce a broad, new right of conscience rule permitting medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable including abortion, possibly even including artificial insemination or birth control. For more than 30 years, federal law has dictated that doctors and nurses can refuse to perform abortions. But the new rule goes way further including virtually everyone and anyone remotely involved in any such procedure. The proposed rule says this, quote, "The department proposes to interpret the term ‘assist in the performance’ broadly as encompassing individuals who are members of the workforce of the department-funded entity performing the objectionable procedure."What does that mean? Does that mean basically anyone, even the person cleaning the medical instruments would be included, person sweeping the floors, the person guarding the door? We should call the Amish bus driver rule. You know, if you’re Amish and your values and your beliefs will not allow you to operate an automobile, then surely, you know, that’s your inalienable right. But consequently, you will not be hired to drive a bus. On the other hand here, if you’re morally opposed to abortion, that’s absolutely your inalienable right to hold that belief. But you can still be a healthcare professional and just refuse to perform legal medical procedures to people who need them? As a matter of fact, yes. Thanks in part to our lame duck president. Bush is not taking abortion rights to the courts. He’s just making abortion rights increasingly difficult for those who would exercise them legally. Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University and a reproductive rights advocate. Hi, Melissa. It’s great to see you. So this proposed new rule says healthcare workers could even refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion. Do you see this as a major setback for reproductive rights?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND AFRICAN-
AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. This has really been the new strategy of those opposed to women’s reproductive rights. Rather than fight this out in the courts, rather than remove the constitutional right that currently exists for women to protect their health around reproduction, instead you limit access and you limit the education that doctors are getting in medical schools. You limit the ability of these doctors to practice in various states and localities. You keep reducing, reducing, reducing. Of course what we know is that that has a disproportionate affect on poor women, on rural women. In other words, women who have private health insurance, women who have private physicians, tend to have plenty of access to a variety of reproductive rights options. But poor women and women with less access are the ones hit hardest by these kinds of decisions.
MADDOW: Right. The fewer options that you have, the more affected you are when your options are reduced or, in this case, eliminated. Health and Human Services says that this rule would apply to any entity which receives federal funds. And as far as I can tell, we’re talking more than 500,000 entities, nearly 5,000 hospitals, nearly 250,000 doctor’s offices, almost 60,000 pharmacies. And while they are not making abortion illegal or saying no abortion-related or contraception-related services will be provided in these places, this sort of opt-out rule might make it just impossible for those facilities to provide these services and all the things around them. Do you feel like this is -I guess we talk a lot about the sneaking nature of these lame duck actions, but this seems to me to have potentially a very, very broad coast-to-coast impact. Do you feel like it’s sunk in yet?
LACEWELL: Probably not, because everyone is so focused on the transition team and on the choices that Barack Obama is making in terms of personnel that were probably not paying a lot of attention or nearly enough to what’s going on in the last days of this presidency. But let me point out that this right to conscience is not just about reproductive rights. This could have a huge impact. Listen, you want your doctor to be making choices based on medical needs, based on the health of the patient. You really want, in certain ways, a bureaucrat in that position. In other words, a decision-making based on rules and procedures, not on these moral conscience questions. I mean, some people, for example, are opposed to anesthesia. You certainly don’t want, you know, nurses who are opposed to anesthesia in surgical operating rooms. And we want to be sure that, as a nation, these kinds of decisions are not being sort of legislated out by these broad opt-out rules that allow doctors to make decisions without consulting their patients.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who is obviously a reproductive rights advocate and a very eloquent one, and also an associate professor in politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. Thank you for your time. It’s nice to see you.
LACEWELL: Absolutely. Thanks.