Bush Officially Proposes Anti-Abortion DHHS Rule

Oh shit.

You know that potential DHHS rule that pro-choice organizations and feminists have been going on about for a month now? The one that says organizations which receive government funding cannot discriminate against those who choose to exercise their “conscience” on matters of abortion — and redefines “abortion” to cover hormonal contraception?

Well, yesterday the Bush Administration officially proposed the rule. (emphasis mine)

Leavitt said the regulation was intended to protect practitioners who have moral objections to abortion and sterilization, and would not interfere with patients’ ability to get birth control or any legal medical procedure.

“Nothing in the new regulation in any way changes a patient’s right to any legal procedure,” he said, noting that a patient could go to another provider.

“This regulation is not about contraception,” Leavitt added. “It’s about abortion and conscience. It is very closely focused on abortion and physician’s conscience.”

The 42-page rule seeks to set up a system for enforcing conscience protections in three separate federal laws, the earliest of which dates to the 1970s. In some cases, the laws aim to protect both providers who refuse to take part in abortions and those who do.

The regulation is written to apply to a broad swath of the health care work force, not doctors alone. Accordingly, an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments used in a particular procedure would be covered. Also covered would be volunteers and trainees.

The underlying laws deal mainly with abortion and sterilization, but both the laws and the language of the rule seem to recognize that objections on conscience grounds could involve other types of services.

“This regulation does not limit patient access to health care, but rather protects any individual health care provider or institution from being compelled to participate in, or from being punished for refusal to participate in, a service that, for example, violates their conscience,” the rule said.

Reading this, there are two key things that you need to understand. The first is that despite Leavitt and other anti-choice puppet’s proclamations, this will limit women’s access to reproductive health care. The denials reek of classism. You see, barring some unforeseen circumstances, I’ll be fine. Those of us who happen to have insurance and private doctors, this will rarely affect us. But those of us who lack insurance? Many who are low-income? These are the people who generally use services that are government funded, and they are the ones who will be affected. The only people who will have less access to health care as a result of this rule the are people who already have the least access to health care. Despite Leavitt’s disgusting rationalizations, not everyone has the access to transportation, child care, money and time to “go to another provider.” That is, in fact, quite a privilege.

The second thing is that many, many, if not most reproductive health centers in the U.S. receive government funding. That includes many organizations which provide abortions, which may be the only abortion provider in a given area, and already work on a strict budget. And under this rule, these organizations would not be able to fire a person for refusing to do their job.

The regulation now faces a 30-day “public comment period.” In other words, there is now 30 days to fight it. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is sending out a mass request for donations to help them fight the rule. Their email is actually how I heard the news. Now, I know that it’s an election year, that people are therefore facing donation fatigue and that the economy is in the shitter. Lord knows that I can’t afford to give anything to anyone at the moment. But if you are able to give, do consider it.

UPDATE: If you have not already, you can also write to your legislator letting them know you oppose the rule and encouraging them to help fight it. I’m as of yet unsure where the general public can comment about the proposal — if you find that info, let me know and I’ll add it.

UPDATE 2: To comment on the regulation, write to consciencecomment@hhs.gov. Specify the subject as “provider conscience regulation.” Know that all comments will be available for public viewing in their entirety. Here is the full content of the proposed regulation (pdf) — for other methods of comment, see page 2. (Thank you, MB!)

cross-posted at Feministe

0 thoughts on “Bush Officially Proposes Anti-Abortion DHHS Rule

  1. jovan byars

    I read about this yesterday when I came back from shopping. I am really outraged over this. i really hope that Congress will end their recess right now and invalidate this new rule.

  2. Pingback: Revised HHS Proposal Released « This is What a Feminist Blogs Like

  3. Lemur

    I wrote! Here’s a copy of my email:
    To Whom It May Concern:
    I am writing to oppose this regulation. This proposal will do nothing but set back healthcare for thousands, perhaps millions of women. Many women who are low-income or in rural areas do not have the option to “go to another provider”. This is a classist assumption, to assume that all women denied treatment have the resources to find another facility. Many reproductive health centers in the US receive government funding, and this rule would allow, if I am understanding correctly, anyone who works there to be able to refuse to do their job, to deny a woman healthcare or perhaps give her midleading or incomplete information. Refusing to do one’s job is a firable offense in every other sector; if a person has a “crisis of conscience” about providing abortion, or hormonal birth control which is in no way like, enabling of, or similar to an abortion, they are free to leave that job. Or even better, to not work for a facility that provides these things.
    How is it fair to protect the consciences (and prejudices) of some, and leave many women with even less options than they had before?
    How is there anything just or fair or right to appeal to anyone’s conscience in this proposal?
    Sincerely, etc.

    Thanks for the reminder, Cara.

  4. Anna

    Dare I ask – where will this all end?! These issues just keep getting worse. You are exactly right to point out the BLATANT classism of it all. Once again – legislation involving health care in this country being written by those WITH health insurance.

    Have we no conscience?

  5. Jess

    one interesting thing I noticed when I finally got around to reading the full text of the proposed rule was that they were supposed to do several specific impact analyses. These include: will it constitute an unfunded mandate? will it affect federalism? and… what will the impact be on families? To answer the funding question, they spend a lot of time computing the cost to hospitals of doing the paperwork associated with this rule, but in response to the topic of family impact, they just say it won’t affect family well-being and leave it at that. So maybe commenters might want to throw “family” into their comments as a buzzword and describe what impacts this rule would have on your family or families you know of. It might get your comments a better chance of being read and addressed in the eventual review.
    Here’s the section of the rule that talks about this: “Section 654 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 1999 requires federal departments and agencies to determine whether a proposed policy or regulation could affect family well-being. If the determination is affirmative, then the Department or agency must prepare an impact assessment to address criteria specified in the law. These regulations will not have an impact on family well-being, as defined in the Act.”

  6. SunlessNick

    And under this rule, these organizations would not be able to fire a person for refusing to do their job.

    And therefore, over time, these organisations could be colonised by anti-choicers with the intent of breaking them down.

  7. Pingback: IMPORTANT: Time To Send Your Comments To HHS Is Running Out : The Curvature

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