Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Comments Due By Sep 25, 2008 at 11:59:59 PM EDT

On August 21, 2008, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt released his proposed regulation which could have many far-reaching impacts on women's and family's health issues. It was published in Federal Register Vol. 73, No 166 on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 which triggered a 30-day comment period that ends on Sep 25, 2008 at 11:59:59 PM EDT.

You can read the full text of the proposed regulation for yourself (as I did)
here. While I didn't find the controversial redefinition of 'abortion' (that was in the first draft and which would have defined the use of 'birth control pills' as the equivalent of having an abortion) within the text of the proposed regulation, the regulation itself is still overly vague and troublesome. In Secretary Leavitt's personal comments about the bill, he clearly intends to interpret the language of the bill in its broadest sense. That means that some folks could still interpret "birth control pills" or the use of an "IUD" to constitute a form of abortion and deny women access to reproductive health services.

In addition, the proposed regulation would interpret the term “health service program” to include an activity related in any way to providing medicine, health care, or any other service related to health or wellness. This opens up an entirely different can of worms. For example, where exactly would one draw the line at where conscience clauses stop? If your job is to pick up the trash from a medical or research facility that provides abortions or any other medical procedure that you find morally objectionable, will that mean you have a right to refuse to do your job and not get fired? What about if you have a job providing the linen services, or telephone services?

If this regulation is promulgated as law, would an employer be forced to hire employees whose “personal beliefs” prevent them from doing the job, the complete job, that they're being hired to do? Will they be forced to hire Jehovah’s Witnesses who object to blood transfusions? Will they be forced to hire Muslim doctors who refuse to see a woman undressed? What about Scientologists who object to psychiatry? Again, where is the line?

Lastly, since they'll be 'interpreting the regulation broadly', what impacts will it have on health insurance provisions? What options will women have who live in rural America, where there aren't a lot of doctors in the first place, if the only available doctors 'conscientiously object' to prescribing birth control pills, inserting IUDs, or providing any other form of reproductive services? What options will woman have who are covered by HMO health insurance when a primary care provider 'conscientiously objects' to providing any form of birth control for his female patients, AND then refuses to (because under your regulation he not obligated to) refer her to another doctor? Is HHS going to interpret the regulation so broadly that insurance companies themselves, who may object to having to pay for women's reproductive health services, no longer have to pay for them?

Please personally express your disdain of this proposed regulation. You can use one of three ways to express your comments:

  • You can submit electronic comments relative to this regulation via their Website or via e-mail.
  • To submit electronic comments, go to the Website and click on the 'Send Comment or Submission' link .
  • You can mail written comments (one original and two copies) to the following address only: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Brenda Destro, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 728E, Washington, DC, 20201.

I've submitted my comments ...

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