Round-Up of Responses to Controversial HHS Proposal

By Rachel Walden — August 6, 2008

As Christine mentioned in her July 18 Double Dose entry, a draft Health & Human Services rule would prevent recipients of HHS funding (such as clinics serving low-income women) from discriminating against those who “refuse to perform certain medical services, including sterilization, abortion, or research activities.”

The proposal is garnering considerable attention because it essentially defines a (even non-implanted) fertilized egg as a human being, and defines pregnancy as beginning at fertilization rather than the medically accepted implantation. The controversial proposal cites results of a public opinion poll as a legitimate source for defining abortion and human life, and could create barriers to obtaining services such as oral contraceptives and IUDs by allowing them to be defined as “abortion” based on personal belief rather than medical and scientific evidence.

Below the Waist has posted an excellent resource, including the text of the draft regulation, tools for finding your Senators and Representative, response letters from AMA and ACOG, and additional information.

ACOG, for example, concluded its letter [PDF] to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt with the following statement:

“Science and the American people are not well-served when the government trumps basic health care needs with ideology and politics. This egregious regulation is an affront to health professionals and to American women. We urge the Administration to stop all further work on this very ill-advised effort.”

RHRealityCheck has a number of great posts discussing the proposal, including this piece by Sen. Hillary Clinton, who says, “We can’t let them get away with this underhanded move to undermine women’s health and that’s why I am sounding the alarm.” Senators Clinton and Murray have been outspoken against the change, and numerous other Senators and Representatives also voiced their objections in a letter to Secretary Leavitt.

Several of the ScienceBlogs authors have also responded, including GrrlScientist, who writes:

“I find it astonishing that the federal government could regulate health care and reproductive choices based on a popularity contest! Since it is impossible to determine whether an egg has been fertilized, this means that a woman can never prove that she is not pregnant. As a result, it will be legal to block women’s access to a tremendous variety of health services, treatments and medications under the guise that they ‘might possibly cause abortion.'”

William Saletan hit on a similar point in a piece yesterday for Slate, where he sarcastically responds to the notion that contraceptives might hypothetically, but are not known to, interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg:

“It is a tribute to the president’s courage that despite this profound implausibility and total absence of documentation, he is protecting the right of employees to refuse to facilitate any such risk, no matter how small.”

He goes on to ask whether food service workers should be allowed to refuse caffeinated beverages to all women of childbearing age on the off chance that it might contribute to an early miscarriage.

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