Last December, one of the last decisions made by the Bush Administration irked us to the highest extent: the Right to Conscience bill allowed pharmacists and other health practitioners to refuse any woman the delivery of her usual contraception method in the name of their own conscience, hereby making a dangerous link between abortion and contraception (reinforcing the belief that life begins at conception, not birth). The Obama Administration is now seeking to “rescind” the bill – with the possible hope of reaching a bi-partisan compromise.

Consience: women have it, too. © IPAS

Consience: women have theirs, too. © IPAS

The Chicago Tribune reports that seven states – among which California, Illinois and Connecticut had filed against the controversial measure, alongside two familial planning groups, arguing that belief and faith would prevail over health issues and personal lifestyle choices. Two specific cases brought attention to the disastrous consequences of the bill – the refusal to deliver an emergency contraception pill (ECP or ‘morning after pill’) by a local pharmacist forced a Texas rape victim to carry on with the pregnancy. The bill was supposed to protect doctors and pharmacists from prescribing surgeries or handing out medication that would go against their ‘conscience’, a broader term use to bypass a religious affiliation. Despite the outcry it provoked among women’s rights groups, the right to refuse a treatment according to ‘conscience’ has been enforced for thirty years.

At a time when this so-called decision is followed by the abortion ban enforced by North Dakota, the Obama Administration is carrying a solid and continuous pro-choice policy. The ban on abortion funding has been lifted in January, and the North Dakota bill will be taken to the Supreme Courts by the state’s Democrats. Rewriting the right to conscience bill means giving more opportunities for health education and aims at limiting the dangers occurring in unwanted, unplanned or non-medically safe pregnancies.  The administration is once again seeking bi-partisan opinions and comments on the topic as it might create another uproar within the House Republicans.  Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, a Utah-based member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has criticized the health-cared field for its “discrimination” against personal beliefs and religious convictions. In place since 2005, and about to leave his position, Leavitt often expressed his support for the bill, like he did in a blog post in the summer 2008: “Our nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience. This proposed rule is a fundamental protection for medical providers to follow theirs.” According to Leavitt, pro-life health practitioners are forced by the American College of Ob-Gyn to perform abortions against their own conscience and thus discriminating against their beliefs.

Always a territory of controversy, subjected to harsh debate between the Republicans and the Democrats, the right to abortion has never seen any tranquil days. As the Obama Administration begins its four-year term with a very comfortable majority in the Congress, Republicans are using every decision as lethal weapon against the powers-that-be. Here’s to hoping the Administration will carry on walking steadily on its pro-choice path. Being refused medication by a health practitioner who swore to Hippocrat he would serve for the well-being of his human peers goes against the specific and extremely fundamental belief of being understood, taken care of and respected as a woman. The social trend lately that has simmered into national politics is that of refusing a woman the right to decide of the future of her own body. The various attempts to overturn Roe vs Wade are becoming alarming. Women are losing control over themselves and over their lives with decrees and bills instauring a collective conscience superior to that of their own vision of themselves as an individual. They are losing the right to self-determination. It is indeed a problem of conscience. It is indeed a problem of discrimination. A choice doesn’t mean that only one option is available. A choice mean that all options remain open. Suppressing this choice is closing all doors and opportunities. Suppressing this choice means suppressing the right to make a decision for oneself. It is suppressing independance, plain and simple.

The new administration’s officials explained that they aimed to “make the rule clearer” as to what health practitioners could “reasonably” refuse to patients.  Finally, reason seems to prevail and choices restored to those who ought to make them. It’s a huge sigh of relief today as this liberticide decision gets a chance to be discarded.

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