The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is a division within the Office of Management and Budget that has the power to review regulations proposed by federal agencies. Since the days of Presidents Carter and Reagan, the White House has used OIRA as a way to maintain cost-benefit analyses of regulations, and to make sure that they do not conflict with public policy.
One clear public policy goal for any administration is to make sure that the national shortage of doctors and nurses on the front line of care is not exacerbated by thoughtless federal regulations. Now the Biden administration has proposed rescinding a Health and Human Services regulation to OIRA adopted during the Trump administration that protects the conscience rights of medical professionals – a move that could, in fact, reduce medical care, especially among underserved populations.
Conscience rights protect doctors and nurses who object to performing certain procedures, such as abortion. Surveys demonstrate that 90 percent of religious health professionals would stop practicing medicine if ordered to violate their conscience.
So far, we are looking at the administration’s OIRA maneuver through a glass darkly. There may be nothing to it other than paper shuffling, and there may be justification for amending the regulation. On the other hand, if the administration is preparing to force healers to perform procedures they object to, the result will be the departure of thousands of doctors and nurses from the front lines of care, especially those who work for less pay among the underserved.
If so, such a move doesn’t sound like smart politics, either. We would bet that even a majority of Americans who are pro-choice would find the idea of compelling physicians to choose between performing abortions, or leaving the practice of medicine, morally objectionable.
Let us hope that this is not where the administration wants to go.