Physicians, Nurses Oppose HHS Draft Regulations on Contraception

Dr. Anne Davis

Every one of the major professional associations representing health care providers who treat women and girls have signed a letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt opposing draft regulations restricting access to birth control.

The Bush administration wants
women to have the worst in reproductive healthcare. As an ob/gyn, I
am proud to say that my colleagues and I won’t stand for it.

A few weeks ago, draft regulations
under consideration by the Department of Health and Human Services
surfaced
in the press,
rules that would expand the definition of abortion to include certain
forms of birth control — including IUDs and emergency contraception — and
allow healthcare providers to withhold these methods from their patients.

In some cases the IUD is by
far the safest and most effective method of birth control for women. I can’t
imagine hiding the IUD from my patients who need it, like a woman I
recently treated who is living with breast cancer. Nor can I fathom
treating the rape survivor in front of me without offering her EC. My
patients come to me for advice and facts. Ideology should not be a barrier
to their care.

But the Bush administration
wants my clinic and healthcare facilities around the country "not
to discriminate" against doctors or any other staff who would withhold
contraception from women who rely on it to continue working, going to
school, and raising the children they already have. In essence, the
Department of Health and Human Services finds it both healthy and humane
to hire people who don’t believe in women’s healthcare to provide
women’s healthcare. As a July 30 article in the Washington Post
noted, patients’ health should come first in the medical world, not
religion or politics.

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To urge HHS to scrap the draft
rules and protect women’s healthcare, all of the major professional
associations representing physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners
who treat women and girls have written a letter (below) to HHS Secretary
Michael Leavitt. These organizations account for roughly 410,000 medical
professionals, all of whom want the best for their patients.

Physicians for Reproductive
Choice and Health
and I are working with
Sen. Hillary Clinton and other elected officials to fight the draft regulations. To spread
the word as far as we can, we are using the media and blog posts like
this one. Please join us in taking action against the Bush administration’s
outrageous proposal.

And after you read the letter
below, please do what you can to circulate it. Thank you.

The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

July 30, 2008

Dear Secretary Leavitt:

On behalf of the undersigned
health care providers and professionals, we are writing to express our
grave concerns about a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS) draft proposed regulation, which we believe will threaten and
restrict women’s access to reproductive health and birth control services.
If implemented, this regulation would upend state laws protecting women’s
access to care and erect barriers to obtaining basic health services,
at a time when we should be working together to expand access to preventive
health care.

The HHS draft regulation confuses
contraception with abortion. By doing so, it undermines our shared national
goal of reducing unintended pregnancy and abortion. The oral contraceptive
pill is the most common contraceptive method in the country, and 82%
of women have relied on oral contraceptives at some time in their lives.
Oral contraceptives, when taken consistently and correctly, are extremely
effective at preventing ovulation. Yet the proposed regulation would
threaten the state laws that improve access to contraception. Moreover,
the regulation specifically defines as problematic state laws that require
employers who offer drug benefits to cover contraception, require hospitals
to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors and require pharmacies
to fill valid prescriptions. Loss of these protections compromises women’s
access to medical services and safe and effective birth control.

The proposed regulation would
redefine abortion as "any of the various procedures – including
the prescription, dispensing, 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." This definition
is contrary to major medical authorities, including the American College
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association,
and the British Medical Association, which define an established pregnancy
as occurring after a fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of the
uterus. The sweeping proposed definition is so overly-broad that it
could capture a range of hormonal contraceptives and nonhormonal devices
approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent pregnancy.

Furthermore, the draft regulation
expands the scope of providers who can claim objections. The meaning
of the term "assist in the performance" is broadened to include
even people tangentially related to patient care, such as those employed
to clean medical instruments, health care entities, such as HMOs, and
health insurance plans. In fact, entire institutions receiving funding
from HHS could choose to make birth control unavailable to their patients.

We urge the Administration
to reconsider this detrimental regulation.

Sincerely,

American Academy of Family
Physicians

American Academy of Pediatrics

American College of Nurse Midwives

American College of Obstetricians
& Gynecologists

American Medical Women’s
Association

American Nurses Association

Association of Women’s Health,
Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses

Physicians for Reproductive
Choice and Health

Society for Adolescent Medicine

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