February 24, 2011 | by Rod McCullom
Obama rolls back Bush’s ‘conscience clause’

The past two weeks have not been kind to the LGBT community. True, there have been a few wins — advances on marriage equality in Maryland and the passage of civil unions in Hawaii, the most obvious ones — but recent weeks have seen a relentless social conservative assault on gays, especially on non-discrimination protections and health care.

Take, for example, the Pence Amendment, with House Republican leadership announcing they would strip millions from HIV/AIDS funding. And a flurry of activity in state legislatures that have laid the foundation for constitutional marriage bans in Indiana, Iowa and Wyoming. Marriage equality appears safe in Iowa—for now. Not so much in Indiana and Wyoming, where same-sex marriage is already illegal and the amendments serve as “double secret” anti-gay marriage decoder rings.

And, of course, the hateful legislation moving forward in Montana that would nullify Missoula’s gay rights ordinance. So much for the GOP promise to “focus” on jobs and the economy.

But a major win for our community happened quietly and without fanfare last week. The Obama administration announced it was finally rescinding most of the Bush-era health care provider “conscience clause” regulations that have been used to discriminate against gay men and lesbians, transgender people, patients with HIV/AIDS, and, of course, women seeking contraception or abortions.

The regulation was approved in 2008 during the sunset of the Bush administration supposedly to allow health care workers to opt out of treating patients based on personal and/or religious beliefs. But like George W. and Dick Cheney’s supposedly benign brand of “compassionate conservatism,” the results were much more insidious to our community, the Washington Post reported.

“[The] rule was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women. Friday’s move was seen as an important step in countering that trend, which in recent years had led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian’s request for infertility treatment…”

The often-abused regulation was described as one of Bush’s “most controversial legacies.”  That says a helluva lot about the Texas oilman who presided over the Iraq war. It allowed the federal bureaucracy to become a Petri dish of movement conservatism — complete with quasi-theocratic legal precedents and state-sponsored bigotry that bred contempt and prosecution for gay men, lesbians and the trans community.

The policy was a cruel joke coming from the same anti-choice, anti-science and anti-gay right-wing cultural Neanderthals that promoted “abstinence” to teens in this country — hello Bristol Palin — and to men and women in AIDS-ravaged Africa.

In the past two years, the rule has been exercised with alarming randomness. CVS locations in Washington, D.C., have been accused of limiting access to condoms. Gay activists in Chicago also cited several Walgreens locations for allowing clerks to refuse to sell condoms to men whom they believed were gay.

That may help an evangelical sales clerk sleep better at night, but it can cost lives. The District’s HIV/AIDS rate is the highest in the country. The HIV/AIDS rate among black gay and bisexual men is much, much higher and those men were more likely to be affected in those cases above.

Only weeks after taking office, the Obama administration announced its intent to repeal the conscience clause. When the new regulations were finally announced last week, almost two years later, there wasn’t too much coverage in gay media, but the right wing went into a virtual meltdown.

“It’s the day pro-life activists have been waiting for, ” CBN bemoaned. “Very disappointing,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been busy in the past few weeks fighting marriage rights in Maryland.

A virtual high-five to the Obama administration for returning some sanity to health care policy, especially when LGBT lives are at stake. Let’s hope over the next two years we will see more regulatory changes that will benefit the LGBT community. And if Pat Robertson is unhappy about something, then we’re probably on the right track.

13 Comments
  • First off, I am all for gays having equal rights in terms of receiving healthcare. People are people, bottom line. As a follower of Christ, it would seem treating people, regardless of their lifestyle, would be the perfect example of following Jesus’ example of love he shows in the New Testament. I mean, come on, Jesus said to “love your enemies.” (Not that a gay person is an enemy, but just to demonstrate how far the call of love goes.)

    The part of this rollback that bothers me is the government making a medical worker, who takes an oath to uphold life, perform an abortion. Is it true that this will happen? Many hospitals were founded, and many still run, by Christian or Catholic churches. To force a doctor or nurse to perform an abortion, that they see as murdering the most innocent beings on the planet, is absurd.

    • No, no one will be forced to provide or participate in abortions. This is about pharmacists who refuse to sell birth control pills to unmarried women. Or as the article points out condoms to Gay men. Or if someone goes to see a doctor and they refuse them medical care because they are Gay. No Doctor is forced to preform abortions. They only time one would be is if they already preform abortions. Then they can not refuse to do one for, say a Muslim women if they are doing them for Christian women. If they do not preform abortions they will not be forced to do them.

    • Correy Lennox Youngblood

      NOBODY is EVER forced to have an abortion. I understand your concern, and I take it you’re pro-life. Seriously, nobody is ever forced to participate in an abortion. Current abortion laws allow people to opt out of participating in them. Anyone who tells you different is lying.

      Keep on rockin, dude. You’re an example of a real Christian. :)

    • No, there is still a provision to allow doctors and nurses to not provide abortions. The law just affects those individuals who used the previous law to unjustly abridge the rights of others. Abortions are one thing; providing contraception or medical supplies associated with abortions is another.

  • Unfortunately the article fails to mention that Clinton signed DOMA, not Bush. There is bi-partisan agreement that gay marriage is wrong.
    Obama is wrong in HIS interpretation. He’s wrong on a lot of things.

  • As a gay man, I will say that I would rather be refused service. A visit to the doctor is a very personal, private matter. I would rather know that my doctor is truly enlightened enough to not care about my sexual orientation. I would NOT want to have to see a doctor who “secretly” disapproves of me because I would likely not get very good medical care in that circumstance.

    MO – Frankly, I’m pretty damn tired of Christians trying to tell me what I can and cannot do. It seems to me the real issue here is that allowing gays equal rights validates homosexuality, which in turn undermines religious doctrine. Poor religious kooks might have to update their religion again.

    Had to update Christian doctrine when the slaves were freed.
    Had to update Christian doctrine when inter-racial marriages were legalized.

    That’s the truly great thing about Christianity, it can constantly change and morph with the times to stay relevant so that all the sheeple keep following along.

  • I have hiv and I am an engineer who works for the largest hiv dating and support site HIVromances . com. I have to tell you a secret, you can choose not to believe me. But the truth is that this site has more than 1,880,000 members and about 80% members are good looking in my estimation.
    Unfortunately, STD rates soar worldwide and most people with STDs don’t even know that they have them. The government should grant more money for STD education to lower the rates of STD transmission.

  • You are wrong, sweety. The article is not about DOMA at all.
    Baby steps.

    And does “MO” stand for HOMO?

  • @ Rich: You’re dissembling. The ‘conscience clause’ ALLOWS doctors and nurses NOT TO PERFORM abortions or other procedures they have religious objections to. It will not allow any pharmacist, clerk, EMS worker or cashier at CVS to refuse service, prescriptions, etc.

    The law is very clear . Doctors and nurses are NOT forced to perform abortions. If so, please cite the link or case.

  • If your a healh care worker or whatever, you leave your church at home and treat people equally, its that simple – can I , as a Jew refuse to help save the life of an XXXXXXX person because they are not of my religion etc.

    Or put up a sign in my store that says – Whites only because of my religious beliefs? Hell no.

    I might make an exception for Abortion, as long as other capable facilities or doctors are reasonably available.

    Adn for the religious right, my only comment is go get another job. I presume you dont have any problems eg painting my house , and we can negotiate as reasonable people whether you will work on it sunday as well, if I”m in a rush.

    BTW the churches have the right to refuse to hire me – because I’m not of their religion. Thats fine also.

  • So much for the abortion doctor who didn’t perform abortions for religious regions..

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