HHS new rules document proposes religious tenets as basis of health care for women

(Image: Source Zimbio.
Photo by None/Getty Images North America. Taken at a a live taping of
Meet the Press at NBC Studios July 13, 2008 in Washington, DC. Even
Carly Fiorina, a top McCain surrogate, called birth control a choice.)

In other women's rights trampling, the Bush Administration is doing
the quick step to achieve as many of its oppressive agenda points as
possible before the President's term ends. This week's big move?

Removing the blockade and letting anti-choice activists storm the
health care castle in order to not only block women from getting
abortions that are, for the record, still legal, but also could
classify contraception products as abortions and enable "objectors" to
prevent women from accessing those too.

They call it "preventing discrimination" in hiring on the basis of
"religious belief" but it's clear---after reading all 39 pages of the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed rule
document---what it really is: trying to cut the legs out from under Roe
v. Wade.

What does the document say? (Click here to read the complete PDF, provided courtesy of RH Reality Check.)

The document states that the government has always provided measures
to protect conscientious objectors, whether the objection is
religiously or philosophically based:

protecting individuals’ consciences in health service
programs and research activities funded by the federal government; and
protecting the rights of all health care entities, individual or
institutional, from being forced to participate in certain activities.
Workers in all sectors of the economy enjoy legal protection of their
consciences and religious liberties. In the health care industry, there
are several statutory provisions that specifically address individuals’
religious and conscience rights. These federal statutes prohibit
recipients of certain federal funds from coercing individuals into
participating in actions they find religiously or morally
objectionable. These same provisions also prohibit discrimination on
the basis of one’s objection to or participation in specific
procedures, including abortion or sterilization, or one’s participation
in or refusal to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures.
More recently, statutory provisions and appropriations riders have been
enacted that prohibit federal programs and State and local governments
from discriminating against individuals and institutions that refuse
to, among other things, provide, refer for, pay for, or cover,
abortion. (p.2)

In addition to this, the document proposes to re-define both
pregnancy and abortion, and this is where it gets very sticky. The
document asserts that there are various beliefs about when pregnancy
occurs, and therefore allows each individual health care professional
to decide---based on his or her conscience and personal beliefs about
when life begins---whether to provide the health service a woman wants.
To quote:

Therefore, for the purpose of these proposed
regulations, and implementing and enforcing the Church Amendment,
Public Health Service Act §245, and the Weldon Amendment, the
Department proposes to define abortion as “any of the various
procedures—including the prescription and administration of any drug or
the performance of any procedure or any other action—that results in
the termination of the life of a human being in utero between
conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

Unfortunately, this is no joke. This is creating health care chaos,
and putting a health care practitioners personal preference above two
of the basic keystones of medical care:

  1. Never to do deliberate harm to anyone for anyone else's interest.
  2. To keep the good of the patient as the highest priority.

That's from the Hippocratic oath.

Because of the broad and unscientific---not to mention inconsistent
and inconsistently applied---proposed new definition in this document
of when a woman could be considered pregnant, nearly any contraception
could be considered abortion and a conscientious objector could decide
to prohibit a woman from receiving it.

As Cristina at RH Reality Check writes

Up until now, the federal government followed the
definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association
and our nation's pregnancy experts, the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at
implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical
experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on
polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically
unknowable moment (there's no test to determine if a woman's egg has
been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a
woman to prove she's not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied
contraception under HHS' new science.

In a New York Times article, leaders in women's health care question the motive behind these proposed new rules:

Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family
Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which represents
providers, said, “The proposed definition of abortion is so broad that
it would cover many types of birth control, including oral
contraceptives and emergency contraception.”

“We worry that under the proposal, contraceptive services would
become less available to low-income and uninsured women,” Ms. Gallagher
said.

Indeed, among other things the proposal expresses concern about
state laws that require hospitals to provide emergency contraception to
rape victims who request it.

Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said, “Why on
earth is the Bush administration trying to discourage doctors and
clinics from providing contraception to women who need it?”

Good question.

Another good question is why the 39 page HHS document provides no
measures for patient protection, or a guarantee that if one health care
practitioner refuses to provide requested health care, another who will
provide it will be made available to the patient.

Clearly the goal is to force health care to hire anti-choice people
who will put their own beliefs and interests above the patients' and
who will block access to basic legal health care. Good medicine and
good health care is not the goal. Choking the religious rights'
anti-choice agenda down patients' throats is.

It's shocking that HHS, which is supposed to be dedicated to
providing better health services to people in the US, would instead put
a religious belief, which is a matter of opinion, above health care,
which is a matter of scientific fact and law.

Does it seem that this new rules proposal is achieving the HHS goals?

Let's not be naive. This is not about protecting fundamental freedom
of belief. This is not about protecting people from discrimination.
This is patently and clearly---and if you don't believe me, go read
each of the articles I linked to and the original document from
HHS---about putting anti-choice health care workers into protected
positions so that they may block women's access to legal and necessary
reproductive health care.

If you think I'm rabidly pro-choice, you're right. I am also
personally against abortion and extremely skeptical about hormonal
birth control. However, choice of how to manage reproduction is, in my
opinion, not just legal, but best left in the hands of the one whose
body it is.

Cross posted at Moms Speak Up, where Julie Pippert is Editor In Chief. You can also find her at MOMocrats and Using My Words.

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