DeGette bill aims to stop 11th hour anti-reproductive health rule

Yet another last-minute Bush administration regulation — one that threatens women’s reproductive health services — is meeting with heavy resistance from Congress, and Rep. Diana DeGette is leading the charge in the U.S. House to kill it.

Our reproductive health beat syndication partners RH Reality Check posted an informative piece on Nov. 20 outlining the love letter from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the anti-abortion conservative movement to curb abortion and contraception services in the waning days of the Bush White House:

The proposed HHS rule would require any health care entity that receives federal funds certify that none of its employees are required to assist with medical services they find objectionable.

Denver Democrat DeGette has joined with her congressional Pro-Choice Caucus co-chair Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) to introduce a bill (no number has yet been assigned) that would prohibit the proposed HHS “conscience clause” regulation from being implemented. The bill is a companion to a U.S. Senate measure S. 20 led by Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

In a joint statement posted to Rep. DeGette’s congressional Web site, the pair each took a whack at the White House:

The Bush Administration’s 11th hour attempt to restrict access to reproductive health care is not only abusive, but also threatens everyone’s access to other vital health care services, said Rep. DeGette, Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “This legislation sends a clear message that this is the wrong direction for health care policy in America. The Bush Administration continues to pursue its extreme ideology over sound public health care policies even as it enters its final days.

Eight continuous years of trouncing on women’s reproductive rights and playing politics with science has obviously not been enough for this Administration, said Rep. Slaughter, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Rules. As its parting gift to women across this country, the Administration has proposed a sweeping rule that goes beyond a woman’s right to choose, beyond a woman’s right to contraception and puts everyone’s access to health care at risk. Even as the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)], including Bush appointees, strenuously objects to this rule, the Administration’s unconscionable actions really show you just how out of touch they are with women and their families. In the 111th Congress, I hope we can focus on reducing the need for abortions through my bill, the Prevention First Act, which will empower women and expand access to affordable contraception.

As RH Reality Check notes, the new regulations are not only overwhelmingly opposed by “women’s health groups, physicians’ groups, members of Congress, President-Elect Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and by over 200,000 individual commenters filing opposition to the regulations,” but that the HHS move may violate a “midnight policy-making” memo issued by the administration itself:

In May 2008, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten directed all heads of executive departments and agencies to submit all proposed regulations before June 1, 2008, in order to “resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months.” The administration has not explained why these regulations rise to the level of exceptional circumstance. HHS has not yet released the new regulations, but they are expected in the coming days.

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Wendy Norris

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