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NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | 28 Sens.' Letter Urges Leavitt to Scrap Draft Rule That Could Limit Birth Control Access

NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | 28 Sens.' Letter Urges Leavitt to Scrap Draft Rule That Could Limit Birth Control Access
[July 24, 2008]

Twenty-eight senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), on Wednesday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt calling on the Bush administration to halt its proposed regulation being developed that "would have the effect of encouraging health care institutions and individuals to refuse to provide birth control to patients who need it," the Oregonian reports. The letter was led by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and was not signed by any Republicans (Pope, Oregonian, 7/24).

Under the proposal, to receive funding under any program administered by HHS, researchers, clinics, medical schools and hospitals would have to sign "written certifications" that they will not discriminate against people who object to abortion -- however it might be defined. The certification also would be required of state and local governments when allocating grants to hospitals and other institutions that have policies against providing abortions (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/23). According to the Oregonian, the rule would affect more than 500,000 hospitals, clinics and medical facilities that receive federal funding (Oregonian, 7/24).

According to the senators' letter, if the regulation is "published as it presently exists in its draft form," it would effectively "define birth control as abortion and therefore allow individuals and health care corporations to refuse to provide family planning," the letter says. In addition, the proposed regulation would "directly undermin[e] many important state laws" that guarantee contraceptive equity in health insurance plans, and ensure that pharmacists fill women's birth control prescriptions. According to the letter, the rule also could "threaten rape survivors' access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms, and might even prevent women from learning that this option exists" (Senators' letter, 7/23).

Most U.S. residents "agree that increasing access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies -- and results in fewer abortions," the letter says, adding, "We urge you not to pursue this course of action ... as it would seriously undermine the access of millions of American women to affordable and effective reproductive health care." According to the Oregonian, HHS declined to comment on the letter (Oregonian, 7/24).