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HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt Puts Physician “Conscience” Before Women’s Health

In his second blog post discussing the draft regulation that would label contraception as abortion, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt argued for physician “conscience” over women’s health. The rule would expand the definition of abortion to falsely label several types of birth control – including emergency contraception, the pill and IUDs – as abortifacients. It would also deny federal funds to medical providers who will not hire doctors or nurses that object to abortion.

In his first post on the issue, Leavitt stated his intent was not to define contraception as abortion, but to protect what he calls the “the right of conscience” of medical practitioners, citing three federal laws that purportedly support this right. In his most recent post, Leavitt responds to a question posed by National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association President Mary Jane Gallagher. She asked, “Who’s going to provide access to contraceptives services if the administration provides this large loophole to deny services?”

In his response, he avoids the consequences of the regulation for women’s health by stating, “If the Department of Health and Human Services issues a regulation on this matter, it will aim at one thing, protecting the right of conscience of those who practice medicine. From what I’ve read the last few days, there’s a serious need for it.”

The rule has negative effects for women’s health aside from equating contraception with abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers would likely receive a large funding increase from the Bush Administration. Health care providers that receive federal family planning funds, including Planned Parenthood, would be forced to certify that they would hire nurses and physicians who object to abortion or contraception.

Sources:

Feminist Newswire, 7/16/08, 7/31/08; RH Reality Check, 8/12/08; Planned Parenthood Action Email, 8/13/08