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Proposed HHS regulation could impact accessibility to birth control

Sorry, Mr. Bush. Stay out of my bedroom. Keep your nose out of my medicine cabinet.

With six and a half long months left in office, President Bush and his administration, specifically the United States Department of Health and Human Services, still have time to tinker with laws and regulations that that challenge our civil liberties, human rights, and a woman’s right to choose. President Bush may soon have a new and controversial regulatory issue before him, one that flies in the face of existing laws and which does not need Congressional approval to be put in place.

“One of the most troubling aspects of the proposed rules is the overly-broad definition of “abortion.” This definition would allow health-care corporations or individuals to classify many common forms of contraception – including the birth control pill, emergency contraception and IUDs – “abortions” and therefore to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it.”

— Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Patty Murray in a joint letter to HHS

Yes, the abortion/contraception issue is back on the front burner, this time in the form of a HHS draft regulation that essentially redefines “pregnancy” and could impact every single woman in the country seeking contraceptive services. While the HHS draft is still under debate with no timetable for submission or a seal of approval, its opponents suggest that the changes in regulations fall within the ideological scope of the Bush administration.

The potential law/regulation sparks debate to the most minute moment in time: when conception actually occurs, and could place the idea of “contraception” in the category of abortion. At best, the draft proposal could restrict or limit access to birth control for millions of women. The words “barefoot and pregnant” are not that far back in our legislative history.

According to the Alex Mayer of the St. Louis Dispatch (7.31.2008), “The Bush administration is attempting to re-define ‘pregnancy.'”

Mayer uses an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

“The Bush Administration has ignited a furor with a proposed definition of pregnancy that has the effect of classifying some of the most widely used methods of contraception as abortion.

A draft regulation, still being revised and debated, treats most birth-control pills and intrauterine devices as abortion because they can work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. The regulation considers that destroying ‘The life of a human being.'”

In Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary are the following definitions:

ABORTION: The TERMINATING of pregnancy after, accompanied by or closely followed by the death of an embryo or fetus. Induced expulsion of a human fetus.

CONTRACEPTION: Deliberate PREVENTION of conception or impregnation.

The draft regulation puts both definitions on equal footing. Any change would not impact the legality of birth control pills, morning after pills or any form of contraception, but it has the potential to reduce the availability of such items to the women who need/want them.

Proposed regulations could impact access to birth control

Defenders of this proposed “adjustment’ to current regulations say it would reportedly defend pharmacists, doctors and clinicians who currently prescribe contraceptives but who, based on personal or religious beliefs, would prefer not to prescribe or dispense such medications. While more liberal states might see marginal impact from such a change, states with a stronger religious of biblical base could make a serious impact on the availability of contraception to women. The proposal has the potential to disrupt state laws securing women’s access to birth control” and “jeopardize federal programs like Medicaid and Title X that provide family-planning services to millions of women.” It would also adversely impact woman who are victims of sexual assault.

The Wall Street Journal report noted that “some on the religious right” see this change as “creating obstacles” for women trying to access birth control and added that the draft regulation could “prompt” insurance companies to “drop coverage for prescription birth control, a move that ultra-conservative Family Research Council’s Tom McClusky said is “fantistic.” Yes, read that again: “Fantastic.” Intruding on a woman’s right to control her own health is “Fantastic.” In this case, add the concept “barefoot and pregnant.”

The proposed rule states that “the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion. This effectively places individual and institutional beliefs over patients’ rights, greatly endangering women’s health.” — David Feinwachs, chief counsel of the Minnesota Hospital Association (as reported in the Star Tribune 7.30.2008.)

In a letter to Michael Leavitt, secretary of Bush’s Health and Human Services Department, Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray, both strong advocates for women’s health and most recently supportive of over-the-counter “morning after” pills, wrote the following:

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Dear Mr. Secretary:

It has come to our attention that the Department of Health and Human Services may be preparing draft regulations that would create new obstacles for women seeking contraceptive services.

One of the most troubling aspects of the proposed rules is the overly-broad definition of “abortion.” This definition would allow health-care corporations or individuals to classify many common forms of contraception – including the birth control pill, emergency contraception and IUDs – “abortions” and therefore to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it.

Sen. Patty Murray

As a consequence, these draft regulations could disrupt state laws securing women’s access to birth control. They could jeopardize federal programs like Medicaid and Title X that provide family-planning services to millions of women. They could even undermine state laws that ensure survivors of sexual assault and rape receive emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms.

We strongly urge you to reconsider these regulations before they are released. We are extremely concerned by this proposal’s potential to affect millions of women’s reproductive health.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
Senator Patty Murray

This rule change would:

  • endanger a Minnesota law that requires doctors to offer rape victims emergency contraception. (Feminist Daily News Wire 7.16.2008]
  • expand the definition of abortion to falsely label several types of birth control – including emergency contraception, the pill and IUDs – as abortifacients. (Feminist Daily News Wire 7.16.2008]
  • deny federal funds to medical providers who will not hire doctors or nurses that object to abortion. (Feminist Daily News Wire 7.16.2008]
  • affect over 500,000 medical facilities (National Partnership for Women and Families 7.30.2008)
  • nullify state laws that require doctors to provide the option of emergency contraception to rape victims, would be effectively nullified.( Star-Tribune/MN)
  • affect over 500,000 medical facilities (National Partnership for Women and Families 7.30.2008)

The rule change is currently being debated within HHS. There is no timetable for when the final version of the rule will be released.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Well, no matter what you call it, mass of calls, embryo, fetus, there’s NO question that its a DEVELOPING HUMAN BEING! Its murder, plain and simple. I keep hearing about the right to choice, but no one gives the unborn baby a choice. I realize thet are incapable of choosing for them selves, but so are infants, should we be allowed to kill them as well if they are “inconvenient”? The term “choice” was inculcated into the argument to sway the debate from killing a developing human being. We don’t have the legal right to “choose” to kill someone, therefore I will ALWAYS be opposed to abortion and believe it should be illegal and treated in the same manner as murder.

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