WASHINGTON - With election approaching and wedge issues becoming more prominent, the Bush administration is proposing new regulations on which agencies must provide reproductive services on request.
Pro-choice agencies and officials such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., see the rules as limiting access to contraception and increasing the number of institutions that are allowed to deny women reproductive services, including abortion.
Clinton said "the regulations could even undermine state laws that ensure survivors of sexual assault and rape receive emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms."
Pro-life groups say the rules will protect patients and professionals from being forced to provide prescription drugs and abortion to which they may be conscientiously opposed.
The pro-choice Center for Reproductive Rights said the draft regulations "purport to educate recipients of (federal) funds of their obligations under the Church and Weldon amendments, which prohibit recipients of federal funds from discriminating against healthcare provides who object to the provision of abortion or sterilization services."
"In reality," the center said, "the regulations go much further, sweeping contraceptive services under an overly broad definition of abortion, and allowing virtually anyone connected with the provision of services to refuse to participate."
The center's president, Nancy Northrup, praised Clinton for working to prevent the Bush administration "from politicizing birth control."
The New York Times reported the Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and certain types of birth control. Hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign written certifications in order to obtain any funds from the federal government.
State and local governments would also have to sign the certifications or lose federal funds for hospital and related services.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the plan potentially "is dangerous assault on women's health."
While most voters' concerns center on the price of gasoline, the security of banks, and the Iraq war, abortion issues still exert a strong pull on traditionalists. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that nearly two thirds of those surveyed support the 1973 Roe v Wade decision of the Supreme Court, people are still conflicted as to what limits should be placed on abortion rights, with only 38 percent saying it "should be legal in most cases."
The proposed rules were praised by Concerned Women for America.
"For over 35 years, federal laws have protected the conscientious rights of healthcare professionals, but they were not fully implemented for lack of thorough regulations to enforce them," said CWA President Wendy Wright. "As more controversial drugs and procedures get introduced, and additional pressure is put on healthcare providers to either compromise their moral commitments or lose their jobs, the need has become greater for regulations to catch up with the law."
As patients, we rely on healthcare professionals to provide ethical advice and treatments," she said. "Patients will lose trust in the healthcare field if professionals are gagged from giving ethical and well-informed advice or forced to commit procedures or provide drugs that take an innocent life. If healthcare professionals are denied the right to live out their moral beliefs, patients will suffer the consequences."
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