Proposed HHS Regulation Could Still Block Access to Contraception, Other Health Services

Jessica Arons

HHS has released its proposed regulation to “help protect health care providers from [religious] discrimination.” The good news is it no longer attempts to re-define abortion to include birth control. But the regulation no longer defines pregnancy or abortion at all.

HHS has released
its proposed regulation to “help protect health care providers from
[religious] discrimination.” The good news is it no longer attempts to re-define abortion to include birth control. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The regulation
no longer defines pregnancy or abortion at all. But Sec. Mike Leavitt
indicated in the press conference that individuals might be able to
define those terms for themselves in determining what they find morally
objectionable, which means they still may be able to deny women access
to oral contraceptives, emergency contraception, and the IUD, among
other commonly used methods of birth control.

And that’s just the beginning.

While most of the regulation limits the scope of allowable moral
objections to training, performing, counseling, or referring for
abortion and sterilization, some sections are not so restricted.

Entities to whom this subsection 88.4(d) applies shall
not require any individual to perform or assist in the performance of
any part of a health service program or research activity funded by the Department if such service or activity would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions.

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That seems to be an exception you could drive a truck through.

Also note the objections can be based not only on religious beliefs
but on any personal moral convictions. This is much broader than the
traditional conscience clauses, including those that allowed for
conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

Finally, the proposed regulation would extend protection from
doctors and nurses to just about anyone who might come into contact
with a patient, and even some who might not.

[A]n employee whose task it is to clean the instruments
used in a particular procedure would be considered to assist in the
performance of the particular procedure.

By that logic, an ambulance driver, a receptionist, and even the
person who processes health insurance forms might be able to refuse to
perform their jobs if related to a health care service they find
morally objectionable. Volunteers are explicitly protected too.

The public may submit comments on the regulation during the next 30 days to http://www.Regulations.gov or via email to consciencecomment@hhs.gov.

This post was first published at ThinkProgress.

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