WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The Obama administration Friday deeply cut a rule protecting U.S. health workers refusing to provide care they find objectionable for personal or religious reasons.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department wiped out nearly all of the so-called conscience rule put into effect in the waning days of President George W. Bush's administration.
The rule has been interpreted as allowing workers to refuse to perform a number of medical services, including providing the emergency contraceptive pill, treating homosexuals and prescribing contraception to single women.
"The final conscience protection rule ... reaffirms the department's commitment to longstanding federal conscience statutes by maintaining and building upon provisions of the Bush administration rule that established an enforcement process for federal conscience laws," the Health and Human Services Department said in a release.
The department said it was "rescinding the definitions and terms of the previous rule that caused confusion and could be taken as overly broad."
The new regulation, which goes into effect in 30 days, leaves in place long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations and retains the Bush rule's process for workers to file complaints.
The Bush-era rule was sought by conservative groups that argued healthcare workers were being fired, disciplined or penalized for exercising their "right of conscience," The Washington Post said. However, opponents to the rule -- including women's health advocates, family planning organizations and abortion-rights supporters -- said it was an obstacle to providing a spectrum of health services.
In its statement, the Health and Human Services Department said the Obama administration "strongly supports provider conscience laws" that protect rights of healthcare providers and recognize rights of patients.
"Strong conscience laws make it clear that healthcare providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion," the statement said. "The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process."