As Secretary of the Department of
Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt has shown himself to be a
devoted bureaucrat and a man of moral conviction. Unfortunately he
insists on combining the two, tailoring the nation’s business to his
faith. That was about the only thing made clear by yesterday’s release
of his new, much anticipated, HHS regulation.
Leavitt is attempting to pass off his new regulation as protecting
health care providers who, for reasons of conscience, don’t want to
take part in abortion services. He told reporters, "This regulation . .
. is consistent with my intent to focus squarely on the issue of
conscience rights. This specifically goes to the issue of abortion and
conscience." But for those schooled in the fine print, the regulation
might be described as a love letter to extremists. After all, there are
already no less than three laws on the books spanning 30 years that
protect individuals who do not wish to take part in abortion care. (And
for the record, no one wants those opposed to abortion providing
abortion care, certainly not patients.) Leavitt does not claim that
these laws are inadequate; he does not point to any violations of them.
He seems to want us to believe that he is merely underscoring
longstanding laws. As he himself pointed out, "It is currently a
violation of three separate federal laws to compel medical
practitioners to perform a procedure that violates their conscience."
In fact, the new HHS regulation far expands the jurisdiction of
those decades-old laws. Here’s the alarming part. The regulation states
it will protect "any individual health care provider or institution
from being compelled to participate in, or from being punished for
refusal to participate in, a service that, for example, violates their
conscience." Once laws were designed to allow those who objected to
abstain from participating in abortions. That is clearly too limiting.
Leavitt’s clear intent is to allow these laws to apply to a larger set
of health care services. As Leavitt puts it, to "protect federally
funded medical practitioners from being coerced into providing
treatments they find morally objectionable."
It’s no longer just abortion services that are targeted. Now its any treatment that someone finds morally objectionable.
The morally imaginative can concoct objections to just about any
procedure, practice or medication. And the new regulation makes no
suggestion about which, if any, personal objection might go too far.
Take those who believe (without scientific evidence) that
contraception can cause abortion. The language of Leavitt’s new
regulation appears to be a big gain. Now, it would seem health care
workers need not be involved with the provision of birth control pills
as long as they can say "they find morally objectionable" the use of
contraception. When asked specifically by reporters whether the
proposal would provide cover for those who claim contraception is
abortion, Leavitt offered, "This regulation does not seek to resolve
any ambiguity in that area."
Leavitt is suspiciously close-mouthed on other important
questions raised (after an earlier version was leaked to the press).
For instance, would laws that now require emergency room staff to offer
rape victims pregnancy prevention be unenforceable in the face of
"moral objections." If read broadly, not only could rape victims be
refused this care by an objecting ER staffer, they could also be denied
information about where they can receive it.
The regulation also has raised fears that a pro-choice organization
could not screen out pro-life job applicants. (Thank you for calling
Planned Parenthood, this is Randall Terry, how may I help you?)
If Leavitt’s intent is as broad as his broadly worded regulation to
suggest, your right to health care – all health care – will be
determined by the sensitivities of nearly every person in a white
smock, and even perhaps others. Your doctor may not have a problem
giving you that prescription, but will the pharmacist fill it? And, if
so, will the pro-life cashier ring it up? Take note: Leavitt’s new
regulation defines health care program or service as: "an activity
related in any way to providing medicine, health care, or any other service related to health or wellness" (emphasis mine).
Women have had to run an obstacle course to get reproductive health
care in recent years. If we leave it to Leavitt, the number of
obstacles will grow.
The Department of Health and Human Services has opened a 30-day
comment period on the proposed regulation. Below are the directions to
register your point of view. To directly tell Leavitt what you think,
he’s accepting comments from the public on his blog.