Michael Leavitt, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, responded on his blog to concerns that a proposed HHS regulation would surreptitiously redefine abortion to include a variety of contraceptives, such as birth control pills, the morning after pill and the IUD. He claims:
An early draft of the regulations found its way into public circulation before it had reached my review. It contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion. Not true.
This statement, however, has failed to reassure pro-choice organizations. As quoted in the LA Times, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards, said:
“Secretary Leavitt’s vague comments on the draft HHS rule do nothing to reassure Americans that the administration is not considering redefining abortion to include forms of contraception, thereby jeopardizing women’s access to basic healthcare.”
The regulation in question is allegedly intended to protect the religious freedom of health care workers. It would deny federal funding to any medical institution that did not accommodate the beliefs of employees by allowing them to decline to perform any medical treatments or work (including dispensing prescriptions) to which they morally object. Included in an earlier draft of the regulations was a redefinition of abortion that would have included a lot of contraceptives, including birth control pills and IUDs. Now it appears that the Bush administration is backtracking on this aspect of it.
But even without this redefinition of abortion included (assuming that it ultimately isn’t), pro-choice groups still object to other provisions of the proposed regulations. As Reuters reports:
The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association said it was concerned the proposed regulation would target 37 state laws.
“These laws mandate the availability of EC (emergency contraception) in emergency rooms, bar pharmacies from flatly refusing to fill prescriptions and mandate coverage of contraception when other prescriptions are covered,” the group said in a statement.
The organization goes on to state:
“Given that at least 17.5 million women in America are in need of publicly funded contraceptive services … we believe the department should be working to increase access to these crucial health care services, rather than working to limit them.”