We're in that phase of the Bush era in which we're going to see the White House try to push a lot of ridiculous crap through federal agencies in order to enshrine conservative principles before George W. Bush heads back to the ranch, tail between his legs. It's no surprise that a president who, days after entering office in 2001 chose to make his first major foreign policy action a reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule -- cutting off aid to developing world non-profits that offer contraception and abortion -- would also like to stigmatize reproductive health care here at home.
Yesterday The New York Times reported that the Bush administration is circulating regulatory changes within the Department of Health and Human Services that would prevent health care providers from choosing not to hire ideologues opposed to reproductive rights (including distributing contraception). The regulations, which could go into affect in as little as two months, would also re-define abortion as "any of the various procedures -- including the prescription, dispensing 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.”
Wow. In the past, HHS defined abortion the way the American Medical Association does -- as the termination of a pregnancy after implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. This new definition is clearly meant to re-classify emergency contraception, and perhaps even ordinary hormonal birth control pills, as abortion. Of course, this is a central tenet of religious right ideology; opposition to birth control proves that the real "problem" is women having sex without the intention to reproduce. It is women's sexuality that the movement is, in fact, attempting to regulate.
At RH Reality Check, Nancy Keenan lists some ways this new "definition" of abortion could affect reproductive health care:
- This regulation could affect good state laws that require hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
- The regulation could undermine laws that ensure pharmacies fill women's prescriptions for birth control. (The Straight Talk Express should stop by some pharmacy counters and ask women what they think about this one. I'm just making the suggestion.)
- The proposal could allow health-care corporations (hospitals, HMOs, and health plans) to refuse to provide services or make referrals not only for abortion but also for birth control.
- Twenty seven states have laws requiring health-care plans to cover contraception on an equal basis with other prescription medications. This draft regulation could threaten that guarantee, on which millions of women rely for their birth control.
Of course, regulations like these could be over turned by the next president, should he be inclined to do so. If these changes are successfully pushed through and Obama is elected, he'll be facing pressure from women's advocates to roll them back, but also concern from the center about prioritizing "controversial" abortion politics too early in his administration. Suffice to say, I'd rather not test Obama's convictions on this point. So here's hoping the publicity accruing to Bush's radical plan will nip it in the bud.