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HHS issues the "conscience rule"

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We’ve been reporting for months on the flurry of midnight rulemaking at executive agencies.

Here’s the latest addition to the list: Health and Human Services today issued a final version of the “conscience rule.” It allows workers at health care facilities — doctors, nurses, pharmacists — to refuse to help provide services they find morally objectionable. Even a janitor could, conceivably, refuse to clean a room where abortions take place.

“Many health care providers routinely face pressure to change their medical practice — often in direct opposition to their personal convictions,” said Joxel Garcia, the department’s assistant secretary of health.

The rule is extremely controversial because it could limit access to abortion and birth control, particularly in rural areas with few medical facilities. If a facility doesn’t accommodate its employees’ “right of conscience,” HHS can cut off its federal funding.

The president-elect could reverse the rule, but that would take months.

In case you’ve forgotten: According to a May memo (pdf) from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, agencies were not supposed to issue final regulations after November 1.

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