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NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Potential HHS Rule Would Override Minn. Law Requiring Hospitals To Provide EC, Advocates Say

NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Potential HHS Rule Would Override Minn. Law Requiring Hospitals To Provide EC, Advocates Say
[July 30, 2008]

On Tuesday, Minnesota legislators and women's health advocates warned that a proposed regulation being developed by the Bush administration -- a regulation that allegedly seeks to allow medical providers to refuse patients access to commonly used contraceptive methods -- would reduce access to birth control and override a 2007 state law that requires hospitals to offer sexual assault survivors emergency contraception, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (Marcotty, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/29).

HHS' draft regulation would define abortion as "any of the various procedures -- including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation" (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16). Under the draft, 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 a provider or entity chooses to define it. 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. The rule would affect more than 500,000 hospitals, clinics and medical facilities that receive federal funding (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/24).

Speaking at a news conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., the advocates and lawmakers said the regulation would reduce access to birth control, including EC. State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (D) said the proposal "is really out of the mainstream from how Minnesota women think about birth control and how Minnesotans think of EC." Connie Perpich, legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said, "We could not discriminate against hiring someone who perceives birth control as the termination of a separate human life," adding, "We find it so outlandish that it's hard to believe."

David Feinwachs, chief counsel of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said the group originally resisted the law mandating EC be given to sexual assault survivors because it does not like hospitals being mandated to buy and store rarely used medications. However, he said the group does not favor rules or legislation that allow an individual's religious values to supersede the hospital's mission. "If anyone can walk away from a person in need, and call it a day, that's problematic for hospitals," Feinwachs said. Some conservative and religious groups applauded HHS' proposal, the Star Tribune reports. Tom Prichard, executive director of the Minnesota Family Council, said, "We don't think medical people should be punished for acting on their deep moral convictions on that issue" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/29).

Editorial

The proposed rule "claim[s] to protect the rights of nurses and doctors," but it "would interfere with patients' rights," including a woman's right to access birth control, a Boston Globe editorial says. The editorial adds that the regulation "highlights the fact that many antiabortion groups also oppose one good method of preventing the unplanned pregnancies that lead to abortions -- birth control. At some point in their lives, 98% of U.S. women use birth control." According to the Globe, women seeking treatment "could be denied birth control and not even be aware that the service was available -- only denied to her because of the unexpressed personal beliefs of the practitioner." President Bush should stop "doing the bidding of social conservatives who oppose women's reproductive freedoms" and "drop its ideological attack on contraception," the editorial concludes (Boston Globe, 7/30).