WASHINGTON Family planning groups and at least
one member of Congress objected on Tuesday to a Bush
administration memo that defines several widely used
contraception methods as abortion and protects the right of
medical providers to refuse to offer them.
The proposal would cut off federal funds to hospitals and
states that attempt to compel medical providers to offer legal
abortion and contraception services to women.
The proposal circulated to media defines abortion broadly
to include many types of contraception, including birth control
pills and intrauterine devices.
Health and Human Services officials declined to confirm the
proposal, but noted their responsibility to protect against
discrimination of doctors and pharmacists who object to
abortion or birth control on religious or moral grounds.
"This proposed rule will put women's access to birth
control and the information they need to make health care
decisions at risk," Cecile Richards, President of Planned
Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
"As a result, women's ability to manage their own health
care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology."
A copy of a memo that appears to be an HHS draft provided
to Reuters, carries a broad definition of abortion.
"The Department proposes to define abortion as 'any of the
various procedures -- including the prescription and
administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure
or any other action -- that results in the termination of the
life of a human being in utero between conception and natural
birth, whether before or after implantation,"' it said.
Conception occurs when egg and sperm unite in the fallopian
tubes. It takes three to four days before the fertilized egg
implants in the uterus. Several birth control methods interfere
with this, including the birth control pill and IUDs.
STATE LAWS 'TRUMPED'
The proposed rule is specifically designed to counter
recent state laws enacted to ensure that women can get
contraception when they want or need it.
"Despite the fact that several conscience statutes
protecting health care entities from discrimination have been
in existence for decades, recent events suggest the public and
people in the health care industry are largely uninformed of
the protections," the draft reads.
"In May 2007, Connecticut passed a law requiring all
hospitals to distribute Plan B to rape victims, despite
religious organizations' objections to the abortifacient nature
of the drug," it adds.
New York Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, said the draft
proposal goes too far.
"Federal law currently protects individuals who prefer not
to provide abortion services," Lowey said in a statement.
"This draft regulation would significantly expand the
definition of abortion to include birth control for the purpose
of conscience clause exemptions. By trumping state laws that
guarantee women's access to prescription contraceptives, this
policy would encourage health care institutions seeking to
limit access to birth control," she added.
HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said she could not
comment on potential regulations.
"I would note that, over the past three decades, Congress
has passed several anti-discrimination laws to protect
institutional and individual health care providers
participating in federal programs," she said by e-mail.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)