Unfortunately -- albeit unsurprisingly -- President Bush, much in the way he entered the office, feels the need to leave it by spitting right in the face of women and our health.
This week, the Bush Administration put in place a new set of policies through the department of Health and Human Services. This set of policies was protested with 325,000 petition signatures filed in opposition, public comment and questions at the available platform for such through the HHS by over 200,000 individuals (including myself), and opposed by health, women's advocacy and civil rights groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Women, The National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the International Women's Health Coalition, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the National Women's Law Center, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
Marilyn Keefe of the National Partnership for Women & Families, via RH Reality Check, sums up some of what you need to know about what these new regulations could mean to you:
Like the proposed rules, today's regulations will make it easier for providers to refuse patients vital health services, and harder for patients to learn more about their health status and health options - precisely the wrong outcomes for our health care system. The regulations upend the notion of informed consent and go so far as to clarify that the onus is on women to somehow divine what information and services might be withheld by any given provider, and then shop around to find alternatives.
Moreover, the regulations will create confusion in crucial situations where the health and well-being of patients should be the top priority. Current law already allows providers and institutions to refuse to provide abortion or sterilization services if doing so clashes with their religious or moral beliefs. Yet, sticking to utterly unsubstantiated claims that a climate of religious intolerance is preventing qualified individuals from entering health care professions, HHS finalized a rule that dramatically expands the ability of health care workers and institutions to refuse health care services.
These final regulations continue to leave the term "abortion" undefined - thereby inviting providers to interpret the term to include birth control. Despite claims to the contrary, this goes far beyond current law, which already accommodates providers who do not want to offer reproductive health services because they have religious or moral objections. It opens the door for insurance plans, hospitals, doctors, nurses and even administrative staff to deny women access to contraception.
My feelings on this are I stated them in my own public comment, representing Scarleteen, and also speaking to the needs and agency of the clients I serve through the Feminist Women's Health Center,
My clients cannot exempt themselves from their healthcare needs: I can exempt myself from a job I do not wish to do, or set aside my own personal beliefs to honor those of someone in need of care who has every right to receive it. If I am in earnest about wanting to support reproductive health in my work, should I find myself unable to do the work or put needed care first, exempting myself from it would be the only sound recourse. I should say the same about the federal government and this proposal if it truly supports our health. At a time when more and more Americans are either uninsured or struggling with the soaring costs of health care, the federal government should be expanding access to important health services, not undermining existing protections or interfering in programs that have successfully provided services for years.
For certain, freedom of religion is an essential part of the foundation of this nation: however, separation of religion from public law and policy is the other vital half of that equation, and required for that very freedom. For all of our citizens to have the liberty our constitution assures, it is necessary that no one set of beliefs or values be privileged, nor exercised at the cost of another person's health.
Suffice it to say, these regulations are in no kind of alignment with President-elect Obama's platform (Obama stated he opposed the proposal when it first came up earlier this year), and Obama staffers reportedly are already looking at ways to undo the regulation. Here's hoping it -- and so much of what the Bush Administration have done to put women in harm's way -- can be dismantled as quickly as possible.