Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Anti-Discrimination, Bush Administration Style

Believe it or not, this administration does worry about discrimination in employment, though it's not sex- or race-based discrimination. Those types don't really exist, according to the conservatives, because the employers are supposed to have the right to determine whom they hire without government intervention and because we all know that any individual, irrespective of gender and race, can just try to work harder and to negotiate better labor contracts with the GE or the IBM or the local McDonald's.

Instead, the Bush administration is worried about "discrimination" against people who don't want other people to have abortions or even the contraceptive pill. This, my friends, is how they define discrimination:

The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control.

Under the draft of a proposed rule, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign "written certifications" as a prerequisite to getting money under any program run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Such certification would also be required of state and local governments, forbidden to discriminate, in areas like grant-making, against hospitals and other institutions that have policies against providing abortion.

The proposal, which circulated in the department on Monday, says the new requirement is needed to ensure that federal money does not "support morally coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law." The administration said Congress had passed a number of laws to ensure that doctors, hospitals and health plans would not be forced to perform abortions.

In the proposal, obtained by The New York Times, the administration says it could cut off federal aid to individuals or entities that discriminate against people who object to abortion on the basis of "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

The proposal defines abortion as follows: "any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."

I have bolded the crucial bits in that quote. Note how wide-spreading the rule would be. It could make it impossible for a rape victim in a hospital to get emergency contraception. Given that the draft adopts the pro-lifers' definition of abortion even the routine contraceptive pills are seen as abortifacients.

Maybe this is a good place to point out that refusing to hire workers who will not perform the tasks legitimately required by the job is not discrimination. Yet the Bush administration uses "discrimination" in that odd meaning. According to their definition, a Christian Scientist opposed to all conventional medical care should expect to be hired by a hospital ER, and any refusal to hire that person would be religious discrimination.

That is just plain silly. That we don't see the proposed rule as equally silly is because of its abortion framing: As long as the refusal to provide appropriate medical care only touches women its absurdity is hidden. Not to mention that this rule gives the power to make medical decisions over a patient to any religious health care worker and not just those the patient has delegated the power to.

Yes, the hospitals and so on are expected to cater for the patient, too, by having a second person with no such religious qualms somewhere close by. In practice this means double-staffing. It also means that patients will be subjected to speeches about religion and to delays in getting the treatment they want.

Let's hope that this draft will remain a draft.