Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bush Poised to Implement Dangerous DHHS Rule

I've written before about the proposed DHHS rule that would undermine women's health by preventing government-funded providers from "discriminating" against employees who oppose abortion and/or contraception. The rule would limit women's access to information on all of their available options and make some options inaccessible -- potentially without women even knowing what they're being denied.
[T]he rule--issued as a draft proposal by the Health and Human Services Department in August and under public review through late September--could complicate legal and financial life for any federally funded institution, said Adam Donfield, senior public policy associate at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute.

About 580,000 federally funded institutions--including 89 percent of all hospitals--would be affected, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the rule, any worker involved in the delivery of health care--including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, volunteers and interns--would be able to refuse to provide any medical procedure or medication based on moral, ethical or religious beliefs if they work at an institution that receives federal aid.

Given the widespread moral and religious opposition to abortion, the rule is widely seen as a gambit to restrict access to abortion or to enable medical professionals to avoid referring patients to abortion services. However, the conscience rule also would allow health care providers to refuse to provide a range of reproductive health services, including abortions but also birth control, including emergency contraception, without exception.

"It appears that one penalty under this regulation will be to lose the federal funds under a specific program," said Donfield, adding that that could extend to all Medicare and Medicaid funds upon which hospitals critically depend. "Effectively, it means medical institutions will have to disobey their own state laws to keep their access to funding."
For these reasons and more, many prominent organizations and individuals oppose the proposed rule, despite the fact that President Bush seems determined to go ahead with it.
But three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion.

The counsel, Reed L. Russell, and two Democratic members of the commission, Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine M. Griffin, also said that the rule was unnecessary for the protection of employees and potentially confusing to employers.

[. . .]

[T]he National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, 28 senators, more than 110 representatives and the attorneys general of 13 states have urged the Bush administration to withdraw the proposed rule.
The good news is that President-Elect Barack Obama opposes the rule and says he would attempt to overturn it if enacted. Further, Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray have introduced legislation that would prevent the rule from going into effect. Unfortunately, though, the process of overturning the rule could take three to six months, and legislation could take even longer to pass, if it does at all. In the meantime, great damage might be done.

There's still time to take action and strongly voice your opposition to this rule being implemented. It only takes a minute, and could make a big difference.

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