Provider Refusal Rule Provokes Early Reproductive Rights Clashes For Obama Administration

February 19, 2009 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

The HHS provider “conscience” rule, which took effect during the last days of former President George W. Bush’s administration, could launch one of the first reproductive rights battles of President Obama’s administration, the AP/USA Today reports. The rule cuts federal funding to health entities that do not accommodate workers who refuse to provide health services or information they object to on moral or religious grounds. Its stated purpose is to ensure that current laws regarding provider refusals are enforced. Supporters of the rule say it is needed to ensure that they can “follow their moral values,” while reproductive rights advocates argue that the rule limits patient access to accurate information and will restrict access to abortion and birth control services, the AP/USA Today reports. The rule is “a major prong” of the anti-abortion movement’s relatively new strategy of focusing on limiting access to abortion — a strategy that had strong support under the Bush administration, according to the AP/USA Today. Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that the rule was the Bush administration’s final “gift to the extreme right.” Last month, PPFA, along with seven states and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the rule. The AP/USA Today reports that some antiabortion health workers feel that the conscience rule “comes down to their own version of the traditional ‘choice’ argument made by abortion-rights activists — rhetoric that could reverberate in a country so focused on personal freedom.”

Dennis McQuade, a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that providers “object to having their medical skills and training twisted into a purpose they didn’t enter into medicine for, which is to do harm.” Opponents of the rule question whether a provider’s rights are above a patient’s right to health services. Janet Crepps, deputy director in the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that barriers to contraceptive access are “equally as bad as a ban” for many women. However, Daniel Hussar, a professor at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, said that it is a rare case when a woman cannot access contraception, adding that in a majority of areas, people have access to more than one pharmacy.

Obama has said he will work to overturn the new rule, a position that aligns with his support of abortion rights. However, the process of reversing the rule could take months, the AP/USA Today reports. Both sides of the debate are “bracing for a fight,” with antiabortion-rights groups ready to protect the rule and reproductive rights advocates “intent on getting off a defensive footing” after the Bush administration. Crepps said, “We’re very hopeful that a lot of things will change. There’s no longer this constant threat from the White House that we have been living under for eight years” (Surman, AP/USA Today, 2/18).

Reprinted with kind permission from You can view the entire Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women’s Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.

© 2009 The Advisory Board Company. All rights reserved.



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