August 24, 2008

What It Would Mean

That proposed HHS rule is now in its 30-day comment period and speeding towards being official, so let's take a look at what it would really mean for women.

Secretary Leavitt insists that the rule only enforces "consciences clause" laws that already exist, but in fact it expands the rights of physicians - or anyone involved in the medical business, from the person dealing with insurance claims to ambulance drivers - to refuse to provide a wide range of services.

In terms of immediate consequences, it has the potential to undermine existing state laws that ensure access to contraception by:
- Requiring health insurance companies that cover prescription medication to include birth control,
- Requiring pharmacists to give contraception or a referral to another pharmacist,
- Requiring hospitals to offer EC to sexual assault victims.

At least thirteen states have such laws in place already, and I would guess that all of them have anti-choice groups that are just waiting for the opportunity to challenge them.

A second problem with the law: Not only do medical professionals have the right to refuse services, they have the right to refuse to refer to another doctor. They can even refuse to give information about the procedure in question, leaving women to make medical decisions without complete information.

And, of course, the main issue is the fact that rule is so broad as to cover not only abortion, as the Secretary insists, but virtually every form of contraception. The new version of the rule is so broad and so vague as to cover an alarmingly wide range of services.

Now, how will this affect women? It only applies to HHS-funded businesses, so as far as I can tell this means that women with private insurance still have something of a pass. Women attending publicly-funded clinics, however, will be forced to leave their health care up to luck of the draw. Pro-choice medical professionals will certainly still exist, but so will anti-choice ones, and women, especially women in rural areas, might not be able to get services anywhere else if their local health care provider refuses to provide them.

To sum it up, here's Senator Clinton:

"So just imagine what this means. Under these proposed rules, health insurance plans could disregard state laws that require covering prescription medications and prescription contraception by claiming that contraception is abortion. Women would watch their contraceptive coverage disappear overnight.

And that's not all.

Imagine that a sexual assault survivor walks into the emergency room, and—in our state, we are one of fourteen states with laws guaranteeing access to emergency contraception, but, under these Bush rules, an ideologically-driven hospital administrator, or an emergency room supervisor, or a doctor or a nurse on duty, could deny this woman access to emergency contraception. So the woman who survived the assault would now be at risk for becoming pregnant, denied the care she needs in her hour of greatest need.

These rules would also build new barriers to counseling, education, contraception and preventive health services for those in need. It is an end-run around the rights of women to make choices about our own health, and we are not going to stand for it."

Damn straight. To tell Secretary Leavitt what you think about the rule, drop him a line at


Anonymous said...

women with private insurance still have something of a pass.

Yes and no. The rule change applies to employees at institutions receiving federal money (e.g. many clinics, hospitals, research institutes, and medical schools), so women will be exempt only if they have private insurance AND if they're going to a privately funded practice.

Spiffy said...

Oh, true enough... Thanks for pointing that out!