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Update: Redefining Birth Control As Abortion

By August 15, 2008

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In July, I wrote about two related movements that, together, are different sides of the same "culture war" symbolized by legal access to abortion. On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle weighed in with an editorial that details the draconian effects of the draft Health and Human Services (HHS) rule at the center of the uproar.

Media and advocacy response to the quasi-public release of the draft rule (click the PDF link I'm still searching for a copy of the text) seems to have had results. Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "HHS is moving stealthily because it knows that there's no public support for such reactionary regulations -- 73% of voters believe strongly in making contraception easier for women of all incomes to obtain." The next day, HHS Chief Mike Leavitt tried to distance himself from the "early draft" of the rule. He said, on the HHS blog, that it was "not true" that "my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion."

Leavitt also said that HHS had not decided whether or not to move forward with a rule, but that if it did, the agency would "[focus] on the protection of practitioner conscience." Note that "pharmacist conscience" -- detailed in my July report -- runs smack dab into the middle of "patient rights."

Yet in late July, an unidentified person with the National Institutes of Health said the draft rule redefines abortion in a manner "that does not match any of the current medical definitions. It's ideologically based and not based on science and could interfere with the development of many new therapies to treat diseases."

Despite HHS backpedaling, the Houston Chronicle's editorial staff felt it important enough to detail the reasons the draft rule should be shelved. (Aside, no rulemaking requires Congressional approval.)

Health and Human Services officials are considering a draft regulation that would classify most birth control pills, the Plan B emergency contraceptive and intrauterine devices as forms of abortion because they prevent the development of fertilized eggs into fetuses.

The rule, which does not require congressional approval, would allow health care workers who object to abortion on moral or religious grounds to refuse to counsel women on their birth control options or supply contraceptives. It would forbid more than half a million health agencies nationwide that receive federal funds from requiring employees to provide such services. Pharmacists could use the rule as a justification for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions, and insurance companies could cite it as a basis for declining to cover the costs...

[The] draft rule could void laws in 27 states that require insurance companies to provide birth control coverage for women requesting it. The rule also could counter laws in 14 states requiring that rape victims receive counseling and access to emergency, day-after contraceptives.

Who's Opposing This Rule
In July, 56 organizations publicly denounced the draft rule. Among them:

  • Center for Reproductive Rights
    Janet Crepps called the draft rule "pernicious."
  • National Women's Law Center
    Jill Morrison: "I will wait to see if a 'clean' version of the rule is released for publication in the Federal Register, and then I will believe it."
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
    Cecile Richards: "Secretary Leavitt’s vague comments on the draft HHS rule do nothing to reassure Americans that the administration is not considering redefining abortion to include common forms of contraception."
  • Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have publicly denounced the draft rule and have asked to meet with HHS about the rule. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) joined 26 Senators in denouncing the draft rule (pdf)

Who's Supporting This Rule
From LifeNews: "Pro-life groups are backing the measure and saying the abortion definition is very clear -- that any drug or procedure that ends the life of an unborn child after the point of conception is an abortion."

  • Family Research Council
    Tom McClusky "said it would be 'fantastic' if the proposed rule prompted insurance companies to drop coverage for prescription birth control."

What Can You Do?
This story landed in my inbox today, courtesy of a friend who was pushing Move-On's electronic petition. Subsequently, I found a similar petition at the National Partnership For Women and Families (also here).

If you feel strongly about any issue, you should do more than simply sign an onlne petition. Because there is little invested (time or energy), these petitions may be taken with the proverbial grain of salt by an executive agency.

The more effective action: contact your three Congressmen (two Senators, one Representative). Then write the Secretary of HHS, and copy your Congressmen:
Secretary Mike Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Rulemaking is the process taken by the Executive branch to implement laws developed by the Legislative branch. Rulemaking is usually a complex process that involves stakeholders both inside and outside of government. Some rules are informal, others form. Should this rule ever reaches the formal comment stage, you will be able to comment electronically.

See:
:: John McCain on Abortion
:: Barack Obama on Abortion

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