Protecting Anti-Abortionists’ Rights

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I don’t know any women who are happy about having to have an abortion. They would have much preferred to not have been pregnant in the first place. But if some people had their way, they wouldn’t have a choice about that either. There is a movement to ban most, if not all, forms of birth control on the same grounds as a ban on abortion: they stop the implantation of a fertilized egg, even though, in the case of birth control pills, that is not a medically proven fact.

In an article on Prevention.com, the growing threat to women’s reproductive rights is clearly outlined. It is not just individuals or fringe groups which are calling for a ban on birth control. The threat reaches as high as President Bush:

“In his first budget to Congress, President Bush stripped out a provision that required insurance companies participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to cover contraceptives. He has also withheld funding for international family planning; signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which critics say could result in making even second-trimester abortions illegal; and signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which gives a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus separate legal status if harmed during a violent crime.

“Bush also appointed three antiabortion doctors to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee: W. David Hager, MD, Susan Crockett, MD, and Stanford. When their committee and the FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee met jointly last December, the group voted 23 to 4 in favor of giving over-the-counter status to emergency contraceptives. Dissenters included Hager, Crockett, and Stanford. In May, the FDA decided not to grant the drug OTC status.”

Not only that, but Bush now has a Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal circulating around Capitol Hill that would require medical practices and hospitals that receive federal aid to certify that they will not fire or refuse to hire doctors who refuse to offer abortion services and certain types of birth control.

The draft rule is known as a “conscience clause” because it would allow nurses and doctors who have ethical or moral objections to abortion or birth control to refuse to prescribe or provide those services to patients. The rule proposes to cut off money to any grant recipient or hospital that refuses to hire doctors and nurses who object to abortion.

In the original draft proposal, HHS’ position was that abortion be defined as any [italics mine] drug or procedure “that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

The official version of the proposal, in which the language about abortion and birth control has been removed, was released on August 21, 2008. Now the proposal requires that “the Department and recipients of Department funds (including State and local governments) refrain from discriminating against institutional and individual health care entities for their participation or refusal to participate in certain medical procedures or services, including certain health services, or research activities funded in whole or in part by the federal government.”

But proponents of women’s reproductive rights argue that the language is vague enough to allow room for discrimination against specific medical procedures and services such as abortion and the dissemination of birth control. If health care workers can refuse to perform or provide such services, the patient is effectively cut off from her right to receive reproductive health care. And a woman’s reproductive rights are compromised, if not nullified.

The crazy thing is, health care providers are already protected from having to perform procedures (abortion) if they conflict with their religious beliefs. So why this new proposal? It appears that the only reason for it is to expand the types of procedures and services which can be denied by a “conscience-ridden” provider as well as expand the kinds of workers who are to be given that protection. Even someone who cleans the utensils will have the right to refuse to do his or her job if the procedure being performed is against his or her religious beliefs.

This may not seem like a big deal in areas where there are plenty of health care alternatives. But what about when health care providers are limited? Or when the patient needs immediate attention? And what comes next? Will all health services be prohibited from denying employment to someone whose religious beliefs would be a problem in the performance of their duties? Will states follow suit and restrict any activities that are funded by state funds? Will pharmacists become reluctant to dispense birth control just like so many doctors are now afraid to perform abortions?

What about the rights of those who want and need these services? Why do anti-abortionists’ rights supercede theirs?


 

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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