IS HHS SECRETARY MIKE LEAVITT TRYING TO REDEFINE ABORTION?

leavitt.jpgIn recent weeks, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has been taking fire for a leaked draft regulation defining 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 life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation." Before implantation, as you may guess, basically means birth control.

Now Leavitt has responded on his blog, saying that the issue at hand is not the definition of abortion, but the efforts of medical specialty groups to deny a physician's right to refuse to perform abortion. That, says Leavitt, is what the possible regulation is meant to address. "It contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion," he writes. "Not true." In a subsequent post, he says "This is not a discussion about the rights of a woman to get an abortion. The courts have long ago identified that right and continue to define its limits. This regulation would not be aimed at changing or redefining any of that. This is about the right of a doctor to not participate if he or she chooses for reasons they consider a matter of conscience."

The draft language of that regulation is extremely clear. Though the regulation itself may be focused on issues of "conscience," were it to be implemented, it would create precedent for conflating abortion and certain forms of contraception. This would not change Roe, but it would be meaningful, as Leavitt knows, for reasons of Health and Human Services funding. Indeed, in the letter that kicked this whole thing off, Leavitt warns that federal funds could be "jeopardized" if the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't change its position on whether OB/GYNs can decide to neither perform nor refer for abortions. Leavitt's blog posts are interesting, but they're dancing around the language of the regulation and refusing to address the critic's central point of concern. Happily, this is a blog, and you can leave Leavitt comments, and having been on a blog panel with him last week, I can say, with some certainty, that he actually reads a lot of them (and, admirably, has responded to this issue twice already, even if he's not been fully forthcoming). So ask him to clarify, why don'cha?

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