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December 18, 2008

Bush Further Taints Legacy by Attacking Birth Control

NARAL Pro-Choice America vows to keep fighting dangerous Bush regulation that could undermine reproductive-health services

Washington, D.C. – Today, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, expressed extreme disappointment over the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) issue of the final Bush administration rule that could undermine women's access to essential health-care services, including birth control.

"President Bush's campaign promise was to unite Americans and he certainly did, as Americans are united in their opposition to this dangerous last-minute rule," Keenan said. "This last-ditch effort to undermine women's health and privacy is a transparent payoff to the right-wing pressure groups. In the 2008 election, voters clearly rejected the use of government authority to advance divisive policies. We look forward to working with the incoming Obama administration to reverse this divisive rule and change the tone of the debate over reproductive rights by protecting women's access to contraception, which actually helps prevent unintended pregnancies."

The new Bush administration regulation purports to encourage enforcement of, and education about, the existing laws described above. If that were so, the regulation would not be groundbreaking, necessarily. But in fact, the regulation pushes the bounds of current law and introduces several very serious problems:

  • It jeopardizes women's access to birth control by leaving open the possibility that providers will be able to define contraception as abortion; allowing them to do so could thereby expand the conscience protections pertaining to abortion to apply to birth control as well.

  • It expands the universe of individuals and institutions that are explicitly afforded refusal rights. It offers broad rights to employees who are only tangentially involved in providing the services at issue (for example, receptionists scheduling appointments), and it may grant entire health-care corporations (hospitals, HMOs, insurance companies) the same "conscience" rights as those offered to individuals.

  • It allows individuals to refuse to give referrals and information about a broad range of services. Current law allows individuals the right to refuse to refer or counsel patients for abortion services, but the regulation may allow individuals to refuse to provide referrals and information about any health-care services. This could affect reproductive-health services and many other health-care services beyond.

  • It fails to take into consideration laws that protect patients' rights to services and information, potentially limiting patients' abilities to make informed decisions about their own health-care needs and to access legal health-care services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, which was cited in the original July 15 article in The New York Times about the proposed regulation, sent 2,500 birth-control packs to the HHS to represent the thousands of activists who signed a petition to protest the Bush administration's proposal. The organization also channeled 25,558 comments to a section of the HHS website that asked for public reaction to this proposal. Leading members of the U.S. Senate and House from both sides of the debate over reproductive rights sent letters calling on Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt to abandon the regulation and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray met with Secretary Leavitt to raise concerns about the proposal. In addition, medical organizations, faith-based groups, governors, state attorneys general, state legislators, and even members of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission all have publicly called for the Bush administration to abandon the proposed regulation.

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