Bush Takes Last-Minute Shot at Reproductive Health

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a controversial final rule which gives health care providers the right to refuse to provide women with access to or information about reproductive health services, if the provider objects on moral or religious grounds. The rule requires providers receiving federal funding to certify in writing that they are complying with laws intended to preserve individuals' right of conscience. But according to the National Partnership for Women and Families: Existing laws make it illegal for federally funded clinics and other medical providers to require employees to provide abortion or sterilization services if doing so clashes with their beliefs…. The proposed rule [now final] goes much further — allowing any member of a health care institution's workforce with a "reasonable" connection to the service to raise an objection, without ensuring that patients' needs will in some way be met. On its face, the rule seems to target abortion and sterilization services. But the rule is written so broadly that it could also reduce access to information about and the dispensing of contraception. For example, take a look at this excerpt from a section of the rule responding to public comments: Some comments expressed concern that the proposed rule could restrict access to contraceptives which are being used for purposes other than preventing pregnancy or are being used in conjunction with other medical treatments….We note that nothing in this rule changes the obligations of the federal Title X program or Medicaid to deliver contraceptives to eligible patients in need. However, we reiterate that we have found no evidence that these regulations will create new barriers in accessing contraception unless those contraceptives are currently delivered over the religious or moral objections of the provider in such programs or research activities. Well, since some people do object to dispensing contraception on moral or religious grounds, it seems commenters are correct in saying the rule "could restrict access to contraceptives." The final rule is slated for publication in tomorrow's Federal Register. It is scheduled to go into effect 30 days after publication — likely Jan. 18 — just two days before President Bush leaves office.
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