Health Advocates Say HHS Proposal Raises ‘Grave Concerns’

Amie Newman

57 health advocacy organizations sent a letter to Secretary Michael Leavitt this morning urging the administration to abandon efforts to implement a rule that would limit access to critical women's health services.

A group of 57 organizations, "leaders in the fields of law, health, reproductive rights and women’s rights", sent a letter this morning to Secretary Michael Leavitt, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services strongly urging the department to "immediately abandon its efforts…" to implement "ill conceived and harmful" draft regulations that would allow federal grantees to refuse to provide access to or referrals for contraception.

The letter outlines the objections the agencies’ have to the proposed regulations including:

Increasing federal exemptions for individuals and institutions that deny women access to basic information and contraceptive services is especially egregious in light of our current national health care crisis…the administration should be working to increase access to health care rather than erect additional barriers. 

It goes on to state that "…these proposed changes are contrary to what the American public wants –  73% of Americans strongly support policies that make it easier for women to obtain contraceptive services."

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I might add that 98% of women in this country use contraception at some point in their lives so this seems to be an especially biased and thoughtless rule in that regard as well. 

The proposed regulation also allows for an alternate definition of pregnancy, leaving health care providers to decide on a definition that jibes with their personal belief system (even if it runs counter to both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) and allowing providers to classify contraception as abortion.

The letter sums up the chilling effect a rule like this could have on womens’ health:

The draft makes no secret of the fact that it intends to trump state laws that protect women’s access to reproductive health care, including those requiring health insurance plans that provide drug benefits to include coverage of contraception; laws that require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors; and laws that require pharmacies to fill patient’s valid medical prescriptions. 

Organizations signed onto this letter include the National Partnership for Women and Families, Advocates for Youth, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, Global Health Council, United Methodist Church, and many others. 

Likewise, as Brady reported this morning, 100 members of Congress sent their own letter to President Bush urging him to "halt all action" on the proposal. 

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