Federal law already prohibits discriminating against any individual or institution that refuses to perform abortions or provide a referral for one. The Health and Human Services Department is considering requiring health care providers and organizations to certify their compliance with the law.
The problem, lawmakers and abortion rights groups said, is that the document defines abortion as including the administration of certain contraceptives; namely, the morning-after pill. If the rule took effect, facilities would be compelled to employ workers unwilling to perform everyday job duties, lawmakers said.
"If the administration goes through with this draft proposal, it will launch a dangerous assault on women's health," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The 39-page document circulating on Capitol Hill was labeled as a draft and a proposed rule. HHS officials issued a statement on the proposal, but they provided little detail about its status.
"Over the past three decades, Congress has passed several anti-discrimination laws to protect institutional and individual health care providers participating in federal programs," the statement said. "HHS has an obligation to enforce these laws, and is exploring a number of options."