The New York Civil Liberties Union today strongly condemned regulations proposed by the Bush administration that could jeopardize access to basic health care services for millions of women in New York and across the country. The regulations expand the ability of health care providers and institutions to refuse to provide health care services, and even information and referrals, to patients.

“These regulations once again show this administration’s willingness to put ideology ahead of patients’ health care needs,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “At a time when Americans are struggling to pay their bills and the entire health care system is in crisis, the president should be making it easier, not harder, to get health care.”

The regulations, which apply to three federal laws governing the use of federal funds by states and health care facilities, expand the types of services that providers can object to on moral or religious grounds. These regulations are written to allow anyone working within the medical field (this would include not just doctors and nurses, but everyone from lab technicians to the hospital’s janitorial staff) to refuse to participate in or provide information about medical care that does not agree with their ideology.

Although the impact of the regulations is still uncertain, they could have wide-ranging effects:

  • They permit health care workers to refuse to provide complete and accurate information and counseling to women who seek services.
  • They leave open the possibility that federally funded health care professionals and institutions could refuse to provide contraception.
  • They could impede the enforcement of state laws, including emergency care laws and professional misconduct laws, that require health care providers to treat patients in need of care.

“Over the years, federal and state laws have struck a careful balance between providers’ religious liberty and patients’ right to access medical care.” Lieberman said. “We must maintain respect for individual rights, but not at the expense of the patient.”