Groups still unhappy with abortion proposal

WASHINGTON Fri Aug 8, 2008 6:03pm EDT

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt visits the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum in Shanghai May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Eugene Hoshiko/Pool

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt visits the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum in Shanghai May 13, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Eugene Hoshiko/Pool

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Family planning groups said on Friday they were still planning to lobby against a proposed new regulation aimed at countering state laws that require certain health care workers to provide contraception to women.

A widely circulated version of the draft regulation would have cut off federal funds to hospitals and states that attempt to compel medical providers to offer legal abortion and contraception services to women.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said a version of the regulation is still under consideration.

"Not only are there clear provisions in three separate laws protecting federally funded health care providers' right of conscience, but doing otherwise undermines the most fundamental moral underpinning of freedom of expression and action," Leavitt wrote in his blog.

Leavitt said the part that many groups objected to most strongly, which defined abortion to include most birth control pills and intrauterine devices, would not be included.

But Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights said her group objected to other parts of the proposal.

"It broadly defines everyone who works at a healthcare establishment as being involved in doing procedures," Northup said in a telephone interview.

"It allows everybody, whether you are a receptionist or a maintenance person ... to object to doing their jobs because they object to abortion or sterilization," she added. "It puts women in the position of not knowing when they go to get healthcare if someone is going to say, 'I am not going to help you here.'"

The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association said it was concerned the proposed regulation would target 37 state laws.

"These laws mandate the availability of EC (emergency contraception) in emergency rooms, bar pharmacies from flatly refusing to fill prescriptions and mandate coverage of contraception when other prescriptions are covered," the group said in a statement.

"Given that at least 17.5 million women in America are in need of publicly funded contraceptive services ... we believe the department should be working to increase access to these crucial health care services, rather than working to limit them."

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton also expressed doubts after reading Levitt's comments.

"It is crucial that science, not ideology, be the basis of any rules released by the Department of Health and Human Services," she said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that this administration would even consider putting women's health and prevention in jeopardy."

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