Protesters don’t want conscience clause cut

About 40 people gathered in front of St. Mary’s Hospital on Monday, rallying in support of laws allowing health-care professionals to opt out of certain procedures, such as abortion or euthanasia.

Protesters said elimination of the “conscience clause” could force closures of Catholic hospitals or force anti-abortion professionals such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others out of their jobs if they were required to perform procedures they find abhorrent.

“People just don’t know about this,” said Patti Brown, who organized the rally in Grand Junction to support the continuation of what is known as the conscience clause.

The Obama administration has published a proposed rule that would rescind a regulation issued by the Bush administration known as the provider-conscience regulation.

Lifting the regulation, protesters said, would open the floodgates to requiring hospitals such as St. Mary’s to perform procedures that would be prohibited by the church.

Lifting that protection “is far reaching,” said Mary Pat Lambert, a Catholic who said it could conceivably be used to require participation in euthanasia, the dispensing of the so-called “morning-after” pills, other forms of contraception or the denial of treatment, all contrary to church teachings.

The issue cuts across religious lines, said Ruth Ehlers, a Presbyterian.

“You don’t have to be anti-abortion to support the rights of health-care workers,” Ehlers said.

The issue is about more than the rights of unborn children, said Colleen Nycum of Mesa County Right to Life, who took her children, Tristan, 13, Calvin, 5, and Maggie, 3, to the rally.

“It’s about the rights of health-care workers, too,” Nycum said.

Mesa County farmer Elizabeth Thaler said she joined the rally because she saw the issue as one of life and that she believed humans need the same “nurturing I provide my plants with.”

St. Mary’s Hospital, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kan., has taken no position on rescinding the regulation, hospital spokeswoman Samantha Moe said in a statement.

St. Mary’s “will adhere to and implement high ethical standards as dictated by the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directive,” and will be guided by the practices approved by the Catholic Health Association, Moe said.

St. Mary’s security officers asked rally participants to remain only on the sidewalks and not on hospital property.

The Catholic Health Association says on its Web site that it is considering its formal response to the Obama administration’s proposal, but said that federal law already contains protections for the church and its members who work in health care.

All those protections “remain in force,” the association says.

Colorado state law has a conscience clause that says no private institution, its employees or physicians may be held liable for refusing to dispense contraceptive supplies, procedures or information if their refusal is based on a moral or religious objection to such activities.

At the time the Bush administration proposed the rule that the Obama administration now is seeking to undo, the Center for Reproductive Rights said it had “undone three decades of federal protections for both medical professionals and their patients” and “replaced them with a policy that seriously risks the health of millions of women, then tried to pass it off as benevolent.”


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