Magazine article The Nation's Health

HHS Proposal Could Threaten Womens' Access to Contraception

Magazine article The Nation's Health

HHS Proposal Could Threaten Womens' Access to Contraception

Article excerpt

APHA and other reproductive health advocates are rallying opposition to a draft federal rule that if proposed and enacted could present significant obstacles for women accessing common contraceptives.

Leaked in mid-July, a draft U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule proposes to rewrite existing federal "refusal" clauses to allow individuals and organizations that receive HHS funding to refuse women access to common contraceptive services and information. While current federal refusal clauses--also commonly known as "conscience" clauses--allow providers to opt out of abortion and sterilization services, the HHS proposal would "so radically reinterpret" the definition of abortion that an entire range of contraceptives could fall under the clause's purview, according to Marilyn Keefe, director of reproductive health programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. According to the draft rule, health care workers who would be covered by the clause include employees, trainees and volunteers.

In a July letter initiated by the partnership and signed by dozens of organizations, including APHA, advocates called on HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to abandon the draft rule, noting that the majority of Americans support access to contraceptive services.

"Moreover, this rule permits health care providers to refuse to perform any service they deem morally objectionable--which raises critical questions about access to health care services," the letter stated. "Increasing federal exemptions for individuals and institutions that deny women access to basic information and contraceptive services is especially egregious in light of our current national health care crisis."

The draft rule would redefine abortion as any procedure that "results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation. …

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