07/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Anti-Discrimination, Bush Administration Style

The New York Times got hold of a draft for proposed new rules for all health care providers who receive federal funds:

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."

How very interesting. Note that the proposed rules apply the Religious Right's definition of abortifacients, which therefore include the common contraceptive pill. Christina Page has more on the implications of that enlarged definition.

But what's even more fascinating is the way "discrimination" is defined in this draft. It's not the usual definition at all, the one that has to do with treating equally competent workers differently based on some characteristic (say, race or sex) which is irrelevant for the performance of the required tasks. Instead, we are told that hospitals and other health care providers should hire people who refuse to do parts of the job, and if they don't hire those people they are then guilty of discrimination.

Let's take that argument a step further. Suppose that I am a vegan and wish to get employed as a server at the local steak restaurant where I will refuse to carry any meat dishes to the waiting customers. Is refusing to hire me "discrimination"?

Or suppose that a Christian Scientist applies for a job at the local hospital Emergency Room. Should that person be hired even though Christian Scientists believe that all conventional medical care is inappropriate?

You might argue that the examples I have picked are more extreme than the proposed rules of the Bush administration. But where is it that we draw the line? Whose moral values are worth accommodating? And at what mental and physical cost to the patients?