New Front in the War on Women: Regulatory Accountability Act Could Effectively Eliminate Reproductive Health Coverage


Six weeks ago when advocates realized that Initiative 26 was going to be on the ballot in Mississippi there was no doubt what was at stake and as a result, an impressive array people and organizers lined up to defeat it. 

But some threats are not so clear. 

Here is one worth tracking.  The “Regulatory Accountability Act” of 2011 (H.R. 3010, S. 1606) may do more to undermine access to birth control and other reproductive health technologies (not to mention a host of other services we rely on our government to provide) than any head on attack we have seen.  The legislation drastically overhauls something called the Administrative Procedure Act and would greatly expand the kinds of ‘new rules’ or policies that must undergo a formal, highly bureaucratic rulemaking process.  This procedure can take a decade or longer to complete.

You know the conservatives’ mantra “limited government?”  Well, this legislation is just the opposite.  It is over-regulation at its most outrageous.  In fact, it is purposeful overregulation so that no regulation can get through. 

Remember when FDA’s Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood quit in protest over the way the agency was handling an application to make Plan B available without a prescription? She did so in response to an announcement by the FDA Commissioner that the Plan B review would have to be submitted to “rulemaking.”  Dr Wood knew this was a way of “slow-walking” if not outright killing a decision to make Plan B available over-the-counter.

So what is at stake if this legislation passes? Take the Women’s Health Services Amendment that we have been working so hard for.  If RAA were in place, it would be nearly impossible for agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to issue major rules like those needed to implement the Women’s Health Service Act.  The RAA would change the cost-benefit requirements to include indirect and cumulative costs – skewing the results.  In addition, the agency would have to prove that its proposed rule was the least costly alternative.  Even if the proposed regulation was able to survive these hurdles, then anyone – and I do mean anyone (health care insurer or Catholic bishop) — could challenge the agency and demand the decision to proceed with the proposed rule be reviewed by a court.

Other policies that benefit women’s health are also at stake. If the RAA passes then efforts to give pregnant women better information about the effects of prescription drugs on pregnancy (a pending rule), provide screening for victims of domestic violence (a pending rule), or get endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, out of canned foods or children’s toys (pending legislation) would be severely compromised.

We look to the government to provide adequate safeguards informed by science and to protect public health and safety.  RAA prevents the government from doing its most important job.

As members of the reproductive health and justice movement, we hope you will join RHTP and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards opposing these measures.  

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), an alliance of consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, is leading the charge to fight RAA and other onerous regulatory burdens and will be publishing a white paper at the end of the week.  Since we could see a vote on this bill as early as the first week of December, we also urge organizations to consider participating in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards Lobby Day on Thursday, December 1.  While the threat from RAA is not as obvious as Mississippi’s Initiative 26, it could have devastating impacts.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.