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Bush aims attacks on women, cutting birth control

Published Jul 26, 2008 3:11 PM

The Bush administration is at it once again. Determined to further undermine women’s reproductive rights and health care, it is once again colluding with the religious right. This time their attack is not only on the right to abortion but on the right to birth control, too.

If implemented, the entire health-care system would be affected.

In mid-July, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) draft memorandum came to public view that proposed ominous new regulations to undercut contraceptive services and reproductive health care. All hospitals, clinics and medical schools that receive HHS grants and provide family planning services would have to hire employees even if these individuals oppose abortion or birth control. The health-care providers would have to swear in writing to comply with this policy to obtain HHS funding.

This affects almost every U.S. hospital, as nearly all receive public funding. States could lose federal grants if they required health-care entities or individuals to provide abortion and birth control services.

The regulations include another dangerous provision: Abortion is redefined in such an overly broad way as to include many popular and effective forms of prescription birth control, including pills, patches, intrauterine devices and even emergency contraception. The document deliberately misnames them “abortifacients” (abortion-causing) when, in fact, they are birth control methods.

By proposing these rules, the administration is clearly aiding virulent anti-choice institutions and individuals in the health-care industry, whose sinister goals are to deny women their fundamental right to birth control and comprehensive reproductive health services.

If the regulations go through, the HHS would be legally protecting anti-choice health corporations and staff members who oppose prescription birth control. HHS would also punish, by withdrawing federal funds, any health-care provider who doesn’t go along. (Anti-choice providers can already refuse to provide abortions or referrals, even in rape cases.)

Thus federal funds meant for family planning programs and reproductive health care could be used by health-care providers who oppose these very services! This could have a very deleterious effect on tens of millions of women—if government-funded health institutions, HMOs or health insurance plans refuse to provide birth-control services, information or referrals.

These regulations represent a particularly serious attack on the health and well-being of millions of low-income women who utilize Title X family planning programs or who are covered by Medicaid; both are under the aegis of HHS. Medical centers contracted by Medicaid or their employees could deny contraceptives to women covered by this program—who total 12 percent of women of reproductive age.

Title X is the only federal program solely devoted to funding family planning and related reproductive health care services. Its 4,400 health centers annually assist five million young, low-income and uninsured women, including many from oppressed communities. Services are usually free or subsidized. (www.plannedparenthood.org)

Family planning program providers would lose federal funds if they didn’t strictly adhere to HHS rules, leaving millions of low-income women in the lurch, at a time of increasing economic crisis. With growing unemployment, no health insurance or loss of existing coverage, soaring food and fuel prices, more women than ever will need government-funded health care, including family planning services.

In its remaining days in office, the Bush gang is trying to push back women’s reproductive rights as far as it can. The HHS proposals are intended to undercut laws and access to birth control and abortion that have been guaranteed. This access was won by decades of struggle by women’s and health care groups and advocates.

The rules as proposed by HHS also threaten state laws requiring drugstores to fill contraceptive prescriptions. And they endanger state requirements that hospitals provide emergency contraceptives to sexual-assault survivors, which the ultra-right has been furiously trying to undo.

The Bush administration explains this reactionary document as a “freedom of conscience proposal.” This is similar to the so-called “religious freedom” claim by right-wing pharmacists who refuse to fill birth-control requests, including for emergency contraception. At the core, these practices blatantly discriminate against millions of women whose own beliefs, reproductive rights and health care would be further denied.

No wonder women’s and reproductive rights’ organizations and health advocacy groups are up in arms about the proposed HHS rules.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stresses, “At a time when more and more families are uninsured and under economic assault, we find our healthcare system is in crisis and our president taking steps to deny access to basic care.

“Th[ese] proposed rule[s] will put women’s access to birth control and the information they need to make health-care decisions at risk. ...women’s ability to manage their own healthcare is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology.” (www.plannedparenthood.org)

Mass pressure is needed now to stop the Bush administration from implementing these anti-woman proposals. Women’s, reproductive justice and health care advocacy organizations are calling for strong opposition to these attacks. They urge messages be sent to the White House, President Bush, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and Congress demanding that the regulations be stopped.

To send emails, go to www.plannedparenthood.org and www.naral.org.