Rick Warren and the Bad Old Days: They Aren't Over Yet

01/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's keep focused on the long term goal. I wish that all the progressive anger about Rick Warren speaking at the Inauguration be focused on shedding light on the actions of last days of the Bush Administration and how to fix its legacy of social and environmental destruction (to find out what's being done to try and fix it, click here). The Warren invite reminds many of the bad old days, when only social conservatives ruled and many of us felt like we had no voice. But it's Obama sending a message to the other half of American, saying, come join us.

The Bush days are over, but change won't happen overnight. I choose to believe Obama asked Warren to speak in order to begin a healing process that ensures we never again endure eight years of such brutally polarized and destructive governance as what we've just been through. The lesson of the unipolar rule of the Bush era is that inclusion and dissent are essential to good governance. When Human Rights Campaign leader Joe Solomonese can take his president elect to task and expect a response, change does happen. Progressives don't have to agree with Obama's every belief or action, nor should they expect to. It's fair to say about the half the country is team Warren, not team Solomonese. But if both the Warrens and the Solomoneses of this world are at the table, and we have eight more years of dialogue, think about where we could be when the Obama Administration is entering its last days.

Instead, we're here: Re-endangering endangered species and women's health. I wish progressives would get half as mad about today's HHS decision to publish "its "conscience rights" rule as they did about Warren. The Bush rule is designed to protect healthcare providers from being denied employment or being fired if they refuse to provide abortions, emergency contraception, or certain forms of birth control because of providers' religious or moral beliefs. What it really does is allow health care providers to control women's options. I don't know what Warren thinks of the rule. I'd like to hear it.

Deborah Kotz at USA Today continues, "200,000 Planned Parenthood members filed comments against the rule, organization Vice President Laurie Rubiner tells me. One of the concerns raised--including by me--was whether patients would even be informed of their doctor's refusal to administer certain procedures or if they would simply be kept in the dark about their options."

Instead, Bush Adminstration officials today issued no legal requirement for a health care provider to have any kind of conversation with a patient about the provider's views. "While current law already protects the religious beliefs of health care providers and professionals, the Bush Administration's Health and Human Services issued a 'refusal clause' rule today that is so broad it could limit women's access to comprehensive health care and other services."

In the words of RH Reality Check, the rule "expand[s] the definition of health care providers protected by provider conscience regulation and allow dissenting providers to refuse to refer patients for treatment in addition to refusing treatment itself."

An early, leaked draft version of the regulation specifically suggested that providers who consider hormonal birth control to be an abortifacient should not have to prescribe it or refer patients for its prescription. The regulation relied on arcane, non-medical definitions of pregnancy to suggest that the belief that pregnancy begins at fertilization is valid and that, a hormonal contraceptive, which anti-choicers claim block implantation of a fertilized egg, is tantamount to abortion. The second, released draft, now published, does not conflate contraception with abortion, but in its broad scope nonetheless provides protections for providers who would like to do just that. "The regulation confirms what we feared," says Marilyn Keefe of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "HHS refused to allay any of the concerns raised in earlier iterations. Contraception clearly remains a target."

This is a last, radical step from Bush, Leavitt, et al. The vast majority of Americans favor access to contraception. A little less than half believes life begins at conception, a Warren view. A little less than half believe gays should be allowed to marry, but three-quarters believe in domestic partnership rights for homosexuals. Asking Warren to offer the invocation is an olive branch to half of America. There has to be room for most of us under Obama's new tent.