HHS chief denies new rule to attack contraception

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A widely circulated draft U.S. regulation that would define many forms of contraception as abortion will not be proposed in that form, if at all, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said on Thursday.

He said the draft, which was denounced by family planning groups, was circulated before he had seen it and would be rewritten.

"The Department is still contemplating if it will issue a regulation or not. If it does, it will be directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience," Leavitt wrote in his blog, posted at .

The proposed regulation as written 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.

The part that many groups objected to most strongly was the definition of abortion, which would include most birth control pills and intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

“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.

Leavitt said the intention was not to define contraceptives as abortion.

“An early draft of the regulations found its way into public circulation before it had reached my review. It contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion. Not true,” he wrote.

“The Bush Administration has consistently supported the unborn. However, the issue I asked to be addressed in this regulation is not abortion or contraceptives, but the legal right medical practitioners have to practice according to their conscience, and patients should be able to choose a doctor who has beliefs like his or hers,” Leavitt added.

Leavitt said he had asked for a draft regulation after writing to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology asking them not to force professionals to refer women for abortions.

“Several months ago, I became aware that certain medical specialty certification groups were adopting requirements which potentially violate a physician’s right to choose whether he or she performs abortion,” Leavitt wrote.

“I asked that regulations be drafted which would enforce these long-standing laws protecting a medical practitioner’s conscience rights.”

Leavitt is the only U.S. cabinet secretary with a blog.

Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Patricia Zengerle