Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bush administration unveils new abortion regulation

Mike Leavitt proposes new Bush administration rules affecting abortion

The Bush administration proposed new rules today that critics say would make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions, and for men and women to obtain contraceptives.

After more than a month of internal -- and eventually public -- debate, the administration unveiled regulations that, if enacted, would provide stronger protections for doctors and other healthcare providers to refuse to perform medical procedures -- or, possibly, sell contraceptives -- if such steps violate their religious beliefs.

Jill Morrison, the senior counsel of the National Women's Law Center, told Countdown to Crawford when we reported on the draft regulation in July that it was "essentially a hit list against anything that protects a patient's rights to get access to legal and needed health services" in the area of reproduction.

Publication of the rule in the Federal Register triggered a 30-day public comment period, after which the Bush administration could implement a final rule.

Announcing the proposed regulation today, Mike Leavitt, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said it was "about the legal right of a healthcare professional to practice according to their conscience."

He said:

Doctors and other healthcare providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health care degree.

The department said the rule would make it clear that protections against discrimination "apply to institutional healthcare providers as well as to individual employees" whose offices receive certain federal funds.

The department argued that the regulation "would in no way restrict healthcare providers from performing any legal service or procedure" and that patients would be able to obtain the procedure -- an abortion, for example -- from someone who did not assert "a conflict of conscience."

The proposal is certain to face challenge from abortion rights supporters.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: “Women’s ability to manage their own healthcare is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology."

She said, the Associated Press reported, that the organization was concerned that the regulation posed "a serious threat to women’s healthcare by limiting the rights of patients to receive complete and accurate health information and services."

-- James Gerstenzang

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