Attorney General: Attorney General Leads 13-State Coalition Against Proposed Federal Rule Jeopardizing Rape Victim Access To Birth Control

Connecticut Attorney General's Office

Press Release

Attorney General Leads 13-State Coalition Against Proposed Federal Rule Jeopardizing Rape Victim Access To Birth Control

September 24, 2008

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed formally on behalf of a 13-state coalition to fight a proposed federal regulation that jeopardizes women's access to birth control and other medically necessary health care services, particularly in cases of rape.

Blumenthal led the states in formal comments filed today calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to abandon the proposed Provider Conscience Regulation.

The rule would require federally funded health care institutions to certify in writing that they will respect the conscience rights of health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions due to religious or moral objections -- but the draft regulation is dangerously vague in defining abortion, and may be interpreted to include birth control.

The attorneys general said the rule could have significant adverse consequences on the delivery of health care services to patients and victims of rape; the ability of organizations to fulfill their core mission of assisting patients and the ability of state governments to ensure equal access to medically necessary services.

Blumenthal said, "This rule could seriously endanger hard-fought patient and victim rights in Connecticut -- including assurances that sexual assault victims are provided emergency contraception. It threatens to drastically discourage and even deter a woman's right to choose. This proposed rule unconscionably puts personal agendas before patient care -- protecting doctor objections, but failing even to acknowledge the rights of rape victims and others to access birth control and related vital health services. The federal government's vague definition of abortion opens the door wide to dangerously broad interpretations that could block birth control access at hospitals, particularly in cases of rape."

The letter states:

"We urge the HHS to adhere to a basic medical tenet -- first, do no harm to the patient -- and withdraw the proposed regulation.

"Health care institutions should not be penalized and stripped of vital federal funding for ensuring that victims of rape and other sexual assault are provided prompt and adequate birth control and other medically necessary health care services. Vagueness and broad application, together with the penalty of withdrawal of critical federal health care funding to a health care entity that violates -- even inadvertently -- the proposed regulation may have substantial and significant consequences for the provision of health care to many Americans.

"The proposed regulation completely obliterates the rights of patients to legal and medically necessary health care services in favor of a single-minded focus on protecting a health care provider's right to claim a personal moral or religious belief.

"In any health care setting, there must be a balance between a patient's right to necessary and appropriate medical care, a health care provider's legal, moral and ethical responsibilities to provide necessary and appropriate patient care and the personal moral and religious views of the provider. By focusing exclusively on the personal moral and religious beliefs of the health care provider, the proposed regulation unconscionably favors one set of interests, upsetting the carefully crafted balance that many states have sought to achieve.

"As an example of this careful balancing of important personal and health policy interests, female sexual assault victims in Connecticut have the legal right to receive information about emergency contraception in order to avoid becoming pregnant. Upon victim or patient request, the health care provider must dispense contraception to her. If the provider has a moral objection to providing such contraception, the health care institution is required by law to provide a reasonable alternative method of providing the needed contraception medication to the victim."

Blumenthal said the proposed regulation may also bar certain organizations from fulfilling their core missions.

"For example, Planned Parenthood may be unable to decline to hire physicians who refuse, on moral grounds, to provide medically necessary and legal terminations of pregnancy or contraception," Blumenthal said. "Similarly, a religious-based hospital may be unable to take employment action against any health care provider who, for moral or ethical reasons, prescribes certain legal medications or medical procedures that are prohibited under that hospital's basic principles."

States joining Blumenthal in the letter to HHS include: Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont.