Minnesota Lawmakers Fight Proposed HHS Regs


Reproductive rights advocates and legislative leaders called on Minnesota Gov. Tim
Pawlenty on Tuesday to urge the Bush administration to abandon a
proposal that could jeopardize access to emergency birth control for
women who have been raped. Minnesota lawmakers overwhelmingly passed
legislation last year to ensure the availability of emergency
contraception in such cases, but under the Bush administration’s
proposed regulations, those women could be denied the appropriate
treatment.

The rule "could make it easier for health-care institutions and
individuals to deny contraceptive services to women who need them,"
legislative leaders wrote in a letter to Pawlenty. "The regulation is
so overly broad in scope that it could undermine state laws that seek
to ensure the availability of these services, even those laws that
protect survivors of rape and sexual assault."

Under the proposed rules,
programs receiving federal funds from the Department of Health and
Human Services (DHHS) would have to certify that their employees can
decline to perform an abortion or dispense birth control if they have
moral or religious objections. Critics say the rules confuse abortion
and birth control.

The rules 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."

Emergency contraception medications use high doses of hormones to delay
ovulation and prevent fertilization. Research indicates that the use of
emergency contraception may cause an embryo to fail to implant on the
uterine wall, an event that anti-abortion activists say is the same as
abortion.

The Bush regulations would take that uncertainty and codify it in law.
Because abortion opponents see emergency contraception as akin to
abortion — despite lack of conclusive evidence to support those claims
— under the proposed rules, they may take a religious or moral
exception to emergency contraception.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the proposal
"is really out of the mainstream from how Minnesota women think about
birth control and how Minnesotans think of emergency contraception."

Donna Dunn, Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a statement Tuesday,
"We must protect barrier-free access to emergency contraception so that
a survivor may be able to give up that particular fear as she weighs
the other post-rape fears. While many may argue the various aspects of
the language of DHHS’ proposed rules, we want to stand firm and say
that victims/survivors of sexual assault should not be pawns in this
debate."

In the letter to Pawlenty, legislators wrote, "This proposed regulation
is of particular concern to us because women who need contraception may
be unable to access it, and that would of course lead to unintended
pregnancies. For instance, this regulation would almost certainly
negate the benefits of our state’s law that guarantees that survivors
of rape and sexual assault have information about and access to
emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms."

The letter continued, "This proposed regulation will not only lead to
unintended pregnancies, but will contravene the laws of our state. We
urge you now to ask the Bush administration not to advance this flawed
and unnecessary public policy."

The letter was signed by Reps. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Tom Huntley,
Carolyn Laine, Tim Mahoney, Erin Murphy, Linda Slocum, Paul Thissen,
Tom Tillberry and Neva Walker, and Sens. Linda Berglin, John Marty,
Sandy Pappas, and Patricia Torres Ray.

"Last year, legislators on both sides of the debate over reproductive
rights united behind a measure that provides rape survivors with the
emergency contraception that could help prevent a pregnancy after a
violent attack," said Linnea House, executive director of NARAL
Pro-Choice Minnesota. "Gov. Pawlenty recognized the strong public
support behind this common sense measure and signed it into law. Now,
just one year after the law took effect, we are urging him to call on
the Bush administration to stop an attack on birth control that would
undermine this state law."

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Read more about the Bush administration’s draft regulations classifying birth control as here.

 

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