Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray have introduced legislation that would block new Department of Health and Human Services provider conscience regulations from going into effect, Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced today. The
proposed HHS rule would require any health care entity that receives
federal funds certify that none of its employees are
required to assist with medical services they find
The Protecting Patients and Health Care Act block HHS from finalizing or implementing the regulations, so the legislation will have an impact even if it passes after the regulations have been promulgated. "This legislation sends a strong message to administrative
agencies that Congress is willing to act when agencies exceed their authority by
going beyond the scope of existing laws and congressional intent," says Planned Parenthood spokesperson Diane Quest.
the final days of his administration, the President is again putting
ideology first and attempting to roll back health care protections for
women and families," said Sen. Clinton in a statement. "The fact that the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] was never
consulted in the drafting of this rule further illustrates that this is
purely a political ploy." In fact, EEOC officials have publicly opposed the rule, saying that the regulations upset the balance between respect accorded to provider and patient conscience.
Clinton and Murray met with HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in September to express their concern over the new regulation, but received no assurances that the regulation wouldn’t impede women’s access to basic health care services like contraception. "While I appreciate the Secretary sitting down with us today, we
received no guarantee that women’s access to contraceptives will be protected
if these rules move forward," Sen. Murray said at the time. And in July, twenty-eight senators joined Clinton and Murray in signing a letter in opposition to the new regulations (President-Elect Obama was one of the signatories). Clinton and Murray are long-time champions of women’s health; by holding up Andrew von Eschenbach’s confirmation as permanent FDA commissioner, the pair forced the FDA to approve emergency contraception for over-the-counter access.
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The new regulations are opposed by women’s health groups, physicians’ groups, members of Congress, President-Elect Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and by over 200,000 individual commenters filing opposition to the regulations. They also appear to violate the Bush administration’s own memorandum which directed departments not to engage in "midnight policymaking,"
except in the case of exceptional circumstances. In May 2008, White
House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten
directed all heads of executive departments and agencies to submit all
proposed regulations before June 1, 2008, in order to “resist the
historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity
in their final months.” The administration has not explained why these
regulations rise to the level of exceptional circumstance. HHS has not yet released the new regulations, but they are expected in the coming days.