Medical Emergency: Bush Issues Health-Care Worker Regulations Sought By Religious Right

Bush continues to push through 11th-hour regulatory changes that might please his Religious Right base but are likely to annoy just about everyone else.

Most political analysts agree that the November election was a repudiation of President George W. Bush and his policies. To be sure, many voters were impressed by Barack Obama's vision and rhetorical skills, but they also saw the need for a sharp break with the failed policies of the Bush regime.

Bush either does not understand this or simply chooses not to acknowledge it. He continues to push through 11th-hour regulatory changes that might please his Religious Right base but are likely to annoy just about everyone else.

Now comes word that Bush has struck again. The lame-duck administration has issued sweeping guidelines that allegedly "protect" the religious freedom rights of health-care workers.

What the new regs really do is infringe on your rights. As The Washington Post reported, "The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways."

Translation: If your pharmacist doesn't want to fill a birth-control prescription given to you by a doctor because it offends his religious sensibilities, he doesn't have to. If you're a gay woman exploring in-vitro fertilization, a worker at the lab can bring the process to a screeching halt by refusing to assist. Catholic hospitals can refuse to provide certain types of critical care, such as morning-after pills, to rape victims.

Who knows? Perhaps if a doctor thinks your sickness is punishment from God, he can send you packing with a sermon and no medicine.

Some people think this isn't a big deal. "Just go to another pharmacist or doctor," they assert. Sure, in New York City and other large urban metropolises that's not a problem. But what if you live in a small town or a rural area, and the next provider is 50 miles away?

Anti-abortion groups have argued that these regulations are necessary so that no medical provider is forced to perform or assist in an abortion. But that simply does not happen. Doctors are not required to learn how to perform abortions, and many don't even get that training.

What these regulations will do is offer protection to pharmacists and health-care providers who have decided to open a facility that is ostensibly open to the public yet run along narrow religious lines. It shields those who would exploit the power they have over others and gives them license to impose their religion.

As The Post points out, this 127-page rule (which will, by the way, cost $44 million to implement) might not be easy to overturn. But this last, gratuitous shot from Bush must be nullified.

Two days ago, my colleague Sandhya Bathija wrote about Bush ordering officials at the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare guidelines that will allow religious organizations to accept public money yet still discriminate on religious grounds when hiring. This new regulation on health care is yet another attempt by Bush to make sure that his unpopular policies live on after he has gone back to Texas.

Consider overturning it another item on Obama's to-do list