Update on HHS Proposal

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President Bush is not giving up the ship without one last volley. I reported in my post, “Protecting Anti-Abortionists’ Rights,” on a Health and Human Services proposal that had been circulating around Washington that would prevent firing or refusing to hire employees in the health services who have an objection to abortion, and who want to be excused from any duties that are at all related to preventing pregnancy. That’s right; the way the proposal is written it would give anti-abortionists great leeway in what they consider to be abortifacients.

Doctors generally agree that pregnancy begins at implantation; therefore anything that prevents implantation is not an abortifacient, but birth control. There is a growing number of anti-abortionists, however, who are contending that even the Pill and IUDs cause abortion. They are extending the meaning to include anything that prevents a fertilized egg from being implanted.

It is important to note that it is not known exactly how the Pill and IUDs work. The general consensus is that the Pill prevents ovulation, for instance, which makes fertilization and thus conception impossible. Even so, if the proponents of this proposal have their way, a doctor may refuse to prescribe the Pill or insert an IUD, a pharmacist can refuse to fill such a prescription, and even nurses and other health workers can refuse to assist in any procedures or even patient care that involves them in what they believe to be “abortion, or other medical procedures.” (Language of the proposal.)

Even if all the proposal dealt with was anything that interrupts a pregnancy (post-implantation), it would be giving great power to those who oppose abortion and limiting the rights of those who seek to prevent or interrupt pregnancy. This is clearly a blow against women’s reproductive rights, and would lead to a diminishment of them. Now the proposal is about to be set in stone as a bona fide regulation.

Regulations already exist which protect an individual’s right to refuse to participate in any activity that is against his or her religious beliefs or even moral conscience. See the statement by the National Women’s Law Center about the HHS ignoring the success of existing federal protection of religion in the workplace. The only reason for this new regulation is to strengthen and expand the definition of abortion.

See “Countdown To Conscience Clause Regulation” (September 22, 2008) from the Our Bodies, Ourselves web site. See also “Take That, HHS!” (November 21, 2008) on Salon.com, which is about Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray introducing legislation that would block the proposal from being enacted.

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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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