Thursday, January 15, 2009

ACLU Files Suit on HHS Rule

Today, January 15, 2009, the ACLU has filed a suit in opposition to the Bush administration's Health Care Denial Rule on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA). Bush’s most recent attack on women’s reproductive rights is scary. Under the guise of protecting health care workers’ rights, these new rules would allow anyone in the health care field, from pharmacists to nurses to doctors to clerks in the drug store, the right to refuse medical procedures, referrals, or even unbiased counseling on any procedure they are opposed to, either morally or through their religious beliefs.

While we believe in the right to express one’s religious or moral beliefs, this rule fails to take patient rights into account. The HHS Department has stated that the rule will not interfere with patients’ abilities to obtain the health care they desire, saying, “It is one of the reasons for the common practice of patients meeting with several health care providers in order to find the one in whom they are most confident about entrusting their care.” This statement ignores the fact that many people do not have access to “several health care providers.” This is especially true of the poor, who may lack insurance as well as transportation to see “several health care providers.” Those in rural areas may also be limited in their choice of provider, especially where there are one or maybe two doctors in town. If the only doctor in town is morally opposed to a specific service, the patient is plain out of luck. This rule is perhaps the most frightening in the context of emergency care, where, for example, a provider may be opposed to providing an abortion necessary to save a woman’s life.

Since the rule was introduced in December, it has been widely opposed by medical organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as numerous women's health organizations, members of Congress, state governors and attorneys general, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious advocates, and the general public. These groups, along with the ACLU, are working to stop this rule’s chances at becoming the law of the land. Once officially implemented, it is more difficult to revoke, leaving a large span of time when patients will be at risk of receiving inadequate care that may endanger their health.

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.

Cassidy in Philadelphia

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