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Restore the Balance

Jennifer Dalven,
Director, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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January 15, 2009

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

When the Bush administration pushed through the Health Care Denial Rule, its parting shot against women’s health, we told you we were preparing our next move. Today, we made good on our promise to restore access to reproductive health care when we filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the rule.

As we’ve reported before, the Bush rule sounds alarm bells, sirens really. Our complaint, filed on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), outlines our core concerns. Broadly speaking, the rule significantly undermines the ability of millions of women — especially low-income and uninsured women — to access essential reproductive and other health care services. It expressly permits a broad range of health care workers and facilities to refuse to provide care, information, and counseling, potentially even in emergency situations. At the same time, it fails to require refusing providers to either notify their employers or their patients of their objections to providing care.

For people seeking health services the rule could mean:

  • women seeking family planning services at federally funded health centers may no longer be guaranteed counseling for abortion care if they request it, nor access to contraceptives, including birth control pills, IUDs, and emergency contraception;
  • a hospital could refuse to treat a pregnant woman experiencing a miscarriage even if it means jeopardizing her life, health, or fertility; and
  • patients in need of services other than reproductive heath care — such as end-of-life care, HIV/AIDS treatment, and mental health services — could be denied care.

The rule also threatens the ability of states to enforce their own laws aimed at protecting access to reproductive health care. These include laws

  • requiring insurers to include contraceptives in their prescription drug benefits;
  • requiring hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors; and
  • requiring pharmacies to dispense all validly prescribed drugs and devices.

For years, the law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The Bush rule takes patients’ health needs out of the equation. We’re asking the court to restore this important balance.

We are proud to be joined in this effort to protect access to reproductive health care by numerous states and women’s health organizations. In addition to our legal challenge brought on behalf of NFPRHA, two other lawsuits were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut: the state of Connecticut filed a challenge along with California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts; and Planned Parenthood Federation of America with Planned Parenthood of Connecticut filed its own legal challenge to the Bush rule.

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