Madigan: New HHS regulation would undercut abortion rights

By Drew Smith | Sep 18, 2008


CHICAGO, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is upset with a proposed regulation that would allow health care practitioners to decide how to define abortion.

On Thursday, Madigan submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to voice her objection.

"This proposal would put politics above access to critical health care services," Madigan said.

"At a time when so many Americans are struggling to find affordable health care and millions of women need access to family planning services, this proposal would severely limit women's ability to obtain needed reproductive health care."

The regulation would permit practitioners to opt out of providing reproductive care services, such as abortions. Madigan claims the proposal conflicts with several Illinois laws that require insurers to cover approved contraceptive drugs and devices; require emergency room personnel to provide emergency contraception services to victims of sexual assault; and require pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency and other forms of contraception.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has a different view of the effects the proposal would have on the health care industry.

"This proposed regulation is about the legal right of a health care professional to practice according to their conscience," Leavitt said.

"Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health care degree."

Leavitt claims the regulation would "in no way restrict health care providers from performing any legal service or procedure."

HHS Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Joxel Garcia echoed Leavitt's sentiments.

"Many health care providers routinely face pressure to change their medical practice ' often in direct opposition to their personal convictions," Garcia said.

"During my practice as an OB-GYN, I witnessed this first-hand. But health care providers shouldn't have to check their conscience at the hospital door. This proposed rule will help ensure that doesn't happen."

However, Madigan claims the regulation would disregard the position of authorities including the American Medical Association and instead, rely on an individual's definition of abortion.

"This proposal effectively blocks state laws in our state designed to ensure that women have access to basic, needed health care services," Madigan said. "I strongly urge rejecting this proposed regulation."

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