Democrats Eye Overturning Bush’s Provider Conscience Expansion

Mike Lillis

Democratic policymakers vowing to overturn a controversial new Bush administration rule that could limit women’s reproductive health options have several tools at their disposal to do so -– but party leaders aren’t revealing which they favor.

Democratic policymakers vowing to overturn a controversial new Bush administration rule that could limit women’s reproductive health options have several tools at their disposal to do so -– but party leaders aren’t revealing which they favor.

The new regulation — unveiled
by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this month —
expands the rights of some healthcare workers to withhold treatments
and counseling services, possibly including contraception, based on
their moral or religious sentiments. The White House argues that the
change — known as the “right of conscience” rule — is necessary to
clarify similar worker protections surrounding abortion and
sterilization procedures that already exist as law. But many Democrats
have joined women’s health advocates, healthcare providers and some
state officials in blasting the rule as a sweeping expansion of
existing statute that threatens women’s access to reproductive health
services.

“Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) said in a terse Dec.
18 statement, “will work with President-elect [Barack] Obama to reverse
this rule.”

But party leaders aren’t saying how they’ll try to do it.
Representing one option, Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Patty Murray
(Wash.) introduced legislation last month that would simply prevent HHS from implementing the new rule. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Col.) and Louis Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have vowed to introduce similar legislation in the House next year.

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“The Bush Administration continues to pursue its extreme ideology
over sound public health policies,” DeGette said in a statement earlier
this month.

Congress could also simply refuse to fund the new rule, which is estimated to cost $44 million.

Or they could nix it altogether by invoking an obscure law
— known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) — which allows Congress
to reject White House regulations passed within 60 legislative days of
Congress’s adjournment. The law would leave Democrats several months
next year to kill the rule.

An advantage of the CRA route is that the vote would be exempt from
the dreaded Senate filibuster, which has snuffed dozens of Democratic
bills over the past two years. The disadvantage is that the measure
would have to stand alone and couldn’t be buried in another bill as a
rider.

Jessica Arons, director of the Center for American Progress’ Women’s
Health and Rights Program, said that invoking the CRA is not as easy as
it sounds, particularly when the issue relates to abortion.
Conservative-leaning Democrats might not support it, she said, and
party leaders might not have the political will to bring it up to begin
with.

The Congressional fight could shift to the White House. The HHS
under Obama could simply propose a new regulation. Obama has already
criticized the rule, issuing a statement in August saying the change “complicates, rather than clarifies the law.”

“It raises troubling issues about access to basic health care for
women, particularly access to contraceptives,” Obama said. “We need to
restore integrity to our public health programs, not create backdoor
efforts to weaken them.”

Yet the issue could be a thorny one for Obama, who ran on a platform
of reaching across the aisle to Republicans. Despite his early
opposition to the rule, he might not want to make an abortion-related
issue one of his first battles, if only because it might threaten that
message of bipartisan healing.

Health care advocates point out that crafting a new White House
regulation would also be time-consuming, calling for periods of public
comment that could extend the process to six months or longer. The
legislative options, advocates say, could happen much more quickly.

Spokespersons in the offices of Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that discussions over how to reverse the
regulation are underway, but no final decision has been made.

Plenty of laws on the books — both federal and state — already
protect health care workers from having to participate in abortion and
sterilization procedures based on moral or religious objections. The
new rule would expand those laws by forcing any healthcare entity
receiving federal dollars to attest that employees aren’t forced to
assist in practices and procedures they deem to be “morally coercive or
discriminatory.”

“A trend that isolates and excludes some among various religious,
cultural, and ethnic groups from participating in the delivery of
health care is especially troublesome,” the rule states, “when
considering current and anticipated shortages of health care
professionals in many medical disciplines and regions of the country.”

Yet the rule doesn’t specifically define which practices and
policies would be covered, leaving many lawmakers and women’s health
advocates to fear that contraception and other family-planning services
would apply. Additionally, the rule will apply to anyone who “assists
in the performance of a procedure,” a group defined broadly as anyone
who participates in “any activity with a reasonable connection to the
objectionable procedure, including referrals, training, and other
arrangements for the procedure, health service, or research activity.”

“It goes well beyond doctors and nurses to include almost anyone who
works in the health care sector,” said Arons of the Center for American
Progress. “It allows people to withhold relevant medical information
and not inform patients about all their options.”

HHS estimates the new regulation will affect roughly 572,000
health-related facilities, including hospitals, pharmacies,
laboratories and medical schools. The rule was published in the Federal
Register Dec. 18 and will take effect 30 days afterwards — just 48
hours before Obama takes office.

HHS did not return calls for comment.

There is also worry that the new rule will allow healthcare workers
to take jobs in certain facilities – a family planning clinic, for
example – for the sole purpose of withholding certain information,
counseling services or treatments they find objectionable. Tait Sye, a
spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pointed out
that, under the new rule, it would be difficult to identify such a
saboteur.

“Your boss doesn’t know,” Sye said. “The patient doesn’t know. The
hospital doesn’t know … No one knows. And it creates an enormous
potential for chaos.”

Meanwhile, states aren’t waiting around for Washington lawmakers to
act. In Connecticut, for example, state Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal is considering legal action to prevent the new regulation
from taking hold. Blumenthal says he’s worried that the change could
prevent victims of rape from receiving emergency contraception.

“We went through a very lengthy, painstaking, contentious process to
reach our statute in Connecticut which has worked well for everyone,”
Blumenthal told The Associated Press earlier this month.

Attorneys general from at least a dozen other states have joined
Blumenthal in their vocal condemnation of the new rule. More recently,
health officials and lawmakers in New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado are also weighing in with concerns.

The right-of-conscience rule is not the only regulation to be
ushered from the White House in recent weeks. Rules to ease
restrictions on mountaintop mining, expand oil shale development and
allow commercial fisheries to police their own polluting have all
emerged from the White House in the final moments of President George
W. Bush’s lame-duck term. Still, none has inspired the outcry of the
“right to conscience” rule.

“On its way out the door,” DeGette said, “the Bush Administration
has, once again, stubbornly and irresponsibly attacked Americans’
access to health care.”

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.