HHS, Abortion, And Birth Control

I am a little shocked that none of my Sciblings has mentioned this. The Department of Health and Human Services is currently considering rule changes that would, in effect, define contraception as abortion. You can find a text of this proposal here. RH Reality Check has a thorough discussion of the issue. More recently, 28 Democratic senators lead by Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y), have written to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt condemning the action. A complete text of the letter is below the fold. Conspicuously absent was any member of the Republican Party – yet another reason why one should never vote Republican.

Secretary Michael O. Leavitt
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Mr. Secretary:
It has come to our attention that the Department of Health and Human Services may be preparing draft regulations that would create new obstacles for women seeking contraceptive services.
One of the most troubling aspects of the proposed rules is the overly-broad definition of “abortion.” This definition would allow health-care corporations or individuals to classify many common forms of contraception – including the birth control pill, emergency contraception and IUDs – “abortions” and therefore to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it.
As a consequence, these draft regulations could disrupt state laws securing women’s access to birth control. They could jeopardize federal programs like Medicaid and Title X that provide family-planning services to millions of women. They could even undermine state laws that ensure survivors of sexual assault and rape receive emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms.
We strongly urge you to reconsider these regulations before they are released. We are extremely concerned by this proposal’s potential to affect millions of women’s reproductive health.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sincerely yours,
Senator Patty Murray
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

Update 1: Mike Dunford at the Questionable Authority has some thoughts on the subject.

25 Responses

  1. Well, the ultra right-to-lifers (spurred on by the Catholic Church) have been pushing this line for decades. Scary that they have come so close to making it government policy, though.

  2. Most days, I think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is fiction – but then I get a reminder that Michael O. Leavitt, former governor of my own home state, is secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

  3. Thank you for talking about this! I love Scienceblogs, but I’ve been very disappointed that nobody has even *mentioned* this incredibly important issue of the intersection of science, society, and religion.
    I’ve already written to my senators, because this has the potential to be a disaster of medical policy on a level we haven’t seen since the “gag order.”

  4. My family had a discussion on this issue yesterday. I pointed out that the “Right-to-Control” believers have been building case law for years now gaining legal acceptance of the idea that a fetus is a human. For instance, it is common now that if a person murders another person who happens to be pregnant, he/she is charged with two murders. A drunk driver who kills a pregnant woman is also likely to be charged and convicted of the two crimes. It is not much of a step from there to a right wing supreme court that decides that, after all, if a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy, it is willful murder.
    But how these “Right-to-Control” believers got from the “the fetus is a human being – abortion is murder” to “stopping a fetus from occurring at all is murder” is way beyond me.

  5. Oldfart, what this crowd believes is that any zygote/embryo/feetus post-conception has the full rights and protections of personhood. As some contraceptives have the possibility to act as abortifacients by blocking a zygote from implanting in the uterus, they are therefore potentially murdering those hapless zygotes.

  6. Oh for cryin’ out loud.
    Great, if this passes, how am I going to get my monthly dose of ABORTION to keep my menses in check so I don’t bleed to death???
    Can we please remind the stupid old men at the top that a lot of us women take oral contraceptives for dysmennorhea and other similar problems unrelated to birth control?

  7. Rogue Epi., not so great, although true. The absolute most important principle here is that women MUST be free to control their own bodies, their own reproductive health (includes your personal prob.), and their own decision to have or not have a child through the use of birth control, including abortion.
    If (and dammit, I have always hoped Margaret Atwood is not a prophet) US laws came to that point, you can bet ‘female problems’ would be exactly the excuse every desperate woman would be trying to wring out of some doctor in order to get a prescription. Very much as in the past, when the poor got back alley coat hanger abortions while the rich saw their carefully chosen doctor and got a D&C.

  8. In case any of you are interested, the reasoning behind the so-called “Right to Life” movement is purely religious. It is based on a line in the Old Testament, which I think is in one of the prophets (Jeremiah?) where God, speaking to the prophet, says, “I knew you in your mother’s womb.” They extrapolate from this that God knows everyone in their mother’s womb, i.e., from the time that they are conceived, yes, from the time that they are zygotes. And, indeed, if you need to take the same hormones that are in birth control pills for dysmenorrhea, they will have absolutely no sympathy, for that, too, is sanctioned by the Bible, apparently. When Eve tasted the apple, against Divine orders, part of her punishment was that thereafter she would give birth in pain. Thus, pain (including painful menses) is considered by fundamentalists to be part of woman’s rightful lot in life, along with being barefoot and pregnant ad infinitum.
    I know this from personal acquaintance with such people, not because I share their views — I do not. I consider these views archaic and repugnant in the extreme. I also believe that if these laws are enforced, all women should go to court, represented by the ACLU, on the grounds that the government is forcing religion down their throats — which it certainly is — and that is most certainly unconstitutional. Look it up. It’s in the Bill of Rights, right there at the top!

  9. So, remember all those people moaning that CERTAIN sites were more politics than science on this blogsite. Well, this is WHY.
    Because you guys make a difference…keep up the good work.

  10. DianaGainer wrote:

    In case any of you are interested, the reasoning behind the so-called “Right to Life” movement is purely religious. It is based on a line in the Old Testament, which I think is in one of the prophets (Jeremiah?) where God, speaking to the prophet, says, “I knew you in your mother’s womb.” They extrapolate from this that God knows everyone in their mother’s womb, i.e., from the time that they are conceived, yes, from the time that they are zygotes.

    Actually, I’ve read an alternate explanation: namely that it’s due to the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is the last big doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church to be approved, back in the 1800s. Since Mary was declared free of sin “from the first instant of her conception”, then of course it follows that all of us are ensouled at conception (which the RCC had not had agreement upon before).
    Granted, Evangelicals and other non-Catholic fundies use the Jeremiah verse, but supposedly the reason this dogma/belief came to prominence was thanks to Catholicism.

  11. To a whole bunch of poster people who seem to imagine that they are extremely knowledgeable re Catholics:
    After reading your posts, it is obvious that most of you know didley squat about the Catholic Church. Your reasoning regarding Catholic opposition to abortion is not what you hallucinate. Might I suggest that you do some real research on what the Catholic Church teaches rather than shoot off your mouth and spew out false garbage. Please don’t disappoint me and continue to make ass hole remarks. (Wow, I cannot imagine a Catholic like myself using the word ass hole.)

  12. At first, I thought “Well, emergency contraception and the pill don’t actually work by preventing implantation. It’s just conjectured that they may reduce the chance of implantation. Since this has never been scientifically demonstrated, and since who-knows-how-many things “may reduce the chance” of implantation, from poor nutrition to horseback riding, this provision couldn’t be used to deny those services, right?
    Then I saw this:

    Because the statutes that would be enforced through this regulation seek, in part, to protect individuals and institutions from suffering discrimination on the basis of conscience, the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason.

    Incredible. Not only does the government come up with it’s own definition of pregnancy in defiance of the medical community, in a bizarre post-modernistic twist it says every provider gets to decide for themselves what constitutes an abortion. Science doesn’t enter into it. Facts don’t enter into it.
    I am speechless.

  13. Diusatis – With the exception of two comments, most of the above spoke about evangelicals, not Catholics. Since, however, you seem to disagree perhaps you can enlighten us…

  14. afarensis, no need for degrees:–Ahaa, if you really want to be enlightened you are going to have to research on your own. That way you can do it from within your heart without my bias opinion to rely on. I certainly would not rely on yours

  15. Hey Diusatis, my asshole friend (it’s one word, btw), I happen to be an Opus-Dei educated ex-Catholic and a veteran (survivor) of 12 years of Catholic school. I’ve also had an abortion and I now volunteer regularly to assist patients of a women’s clinic past your rabidly screaming co-religionists. So please, do enlighten me, what false garbage re: the Catholic Church’s stand on abortion have I “spewed”? Please do tell.

  16. Actually, FCD is not a degree. It stands for Friend of Charles Darwin. I was giving you the opportunity to back up your statements with evidence…

  17. afarensis–May I extend my condolences to you on your hitch with Opus Dei and your 12 year degree in the Catholic education system. So sorry you didn’t learn anything there. You must have been too busy doing other . . . things. Wow, I missed the opportunity you gave me to back up my statement. I sure will lose lots of sleep over that blunder. By the way an ass hole is an asshole no matter how it is spelled and I am proud of mine thank you.

  18. Apparently, the lack of an ability to read is one of your failings. That was Adrienne that left the comment about Opus Dei. As for the rest of your comment, apparently being Catholic means you don’t have to engage in civil discourse, but can, instead resort to insults?

  19. When I mentioned Jeremiah, I was repeating what I had heard in local Protestant churches which are largely anti-Catholic. In fact, they state that Catholics are not Christians — a statement which absolutely floored me which I first heard me, since, of course Catholics were Christians long before there were any Protestants. I cannot imagine what Diusatis is objecting to, however, as all of my Catholic friends agree that the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, applied to Mary, is part and parcel of their equally strong objection to abortion as well as to contraception. However, most of these same friends, being eminently practical, do practice some form of contraception anyway, and I do not mean the rhythm method. I think most Americans feel, in their private lives, that they simply cannot afford to raise as many children as their grandparents may have done. So they do what they have to do, whether they believe they are sinning or not. They may vote to deny others to right to do the same thing, though, which I find terribly sad, not to mention frightening and frustrating. Muslim women whom I have met share similar beliefs, altho’ I do not know the religious basis precisely, and they seem not to have access to birth control of any kind. They seem to want it, though, for the same practical reasons. I suspect that, as my grandmother said, years ago, “If the man had the first baby, and the woman had the second baby, wouldn’t never be no third baby!” — because the man would NOT do it second time.

  20. I am sorry for insulting whomever I’ve insulted but please forgive me for I am just an uneducated ole country boy who drives an eighteen wheeler East and West along Interstate 80. I was taught by my Ma and Pa to respect all people, religious or otherwise and not to ridicule those who don’t agree with what I believe in. I happen to believe that life does not begin at comprehension but rather at conception. Hey, if you don’t buy it fine, but don’t step on my toes. This debate has been going on long before you and I were born and will continue forever. Our form of government allows any individual or collective group to use the system in order to support whatever he, she, or they want to change and if the elected President, the Congress and the Supreme Court are in agreement, shazam it’s done. I believe abortion to be an ethical question based on whether or not an unborn child, fetus, or however you wish to describe it is a human life, period. It seems to me that almost all law is based on some aspects of religion or another. (murder, theft, abuse ,fraud, etc.) Whether liberal, ultra liberal, conservative, or whatever other adjective you might choose to add, ridiculing and demeaning others certainly is out of order.
    “what this crowd believes is that any zygote/embryo/feetus post-conception has the full rights and protections of personhood.”
    “Well, the ultra right-to-lifers (spurred on by the Catholic Church) have been pushing this line for decades. Scary that they have come so close to making it government policy” . . .
    Well, my vacation is over and tomorrow I jump up in the cab and escape from all this madness. Maybe I might be fortunate enough to meet some of you along the way. If I do I would only smile at you and say howdy, have a wonderful day.

  21. “what this crowd believes is that any zygote/embryo/fetus post-conception has the full rights and protections of personhood.”
    “Well, the ultra right-to-lifers (spurred on by the Catholic Church) have been pushing this line for decades. Scary that they have come so close to making it government policy” .

    Those were both statements made by me, not afarensis. And they are both true. All of Diusatis’s blathering and sayin’ “howdy” doesn’t change that. I’ll even add that they are loony beliefs unsupported by science and with no basis being the foundation of any law.

  22. It seems to me that almost all law is based on some aspects of religion or another. (murder, theft, abuse ,fraud, etc.)
    One so seldom finds a theist admitting that these are all aspects of religious systems; very refreshing, Diusatis. I don’t know that I’d agree they’re aspects of religion, but they certainly are over represented in religions. 🙂

  23. My Christian beliefs are based on what Jesus said was the most important Law: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, followed by love God as you love yourself. The first requires me to allow women to have some control over their own lives. This, in turn, requires some birth control, because without it too many women are pregnant or lactating constantly between the ages of 15 and 50, ending up with 20 pregnancies, not all viable (miscarriage, stillbirths, premature births, etc.). Or the woman dies young, worn out by all that birthing and nursing. If you do a little genealogy, you’ll see it in the statistics. I did. Plus I studied nursing and saw it in real life. When there were only 2 million people on earth, such fertility made sense. Now that there are well over 2 billion, it makes sense to curtail fertility. Most religions have a saying similar to what my pious Muslim Turkish teacher used to tell us: “Pray to God, but tie your camel!” In other words, you trust in God, but you also do your part. Birth control, as I see it, is doing my part. I do not see it as sin but as responsibility in today’s world. So does my grandmother.

  24. By the way, Granny is 102 now and had no access to birth control in her day. She lost one and was too ill afterward to continue bearing. Her older sister lost two after suffering from smallpox, then went on to give birth to 10 more. Their next 2 siblings died as infants. The next sister had 5 children when she was widowed very young. The next bore her husband 6 and lost 1 as an infant, very nearly losing another in a house fire. The next, a boy, was killed in a tragic car/train wreck when his first child was small. The next was a girl, who had 2 under very difficult conditions. After listening to his wife scream and cry, giving birth, for 19 hours, with the second, her sweet husband gave in and had a vasectomy. The next, a boy, alternately feuded with his wife, leaving her every so often for long intervals. Even so, they managed to have 3. The next had 3 before losing his wife young. The youngest also died young, while he was in the Korean War, when his first child was an infant. The last baby died of complications shortly after birth.
    Not every woman would have the stamina to endure the births of twelve children, nor would every man be able to earn enough money to keep them fed and clothed. This family, which was by no means unusual in their day, did so because they were farmers. That is, they were share-croppers, the poorest of the poor. They grew crops on land they did not own, all of the children worked rather than going to school, they picked cotton, made clothes from flour sacks, went barefoot, and walked where they had to go because nobody but nobody had a car. They did not have electricity. They did not have central heat or air. They did not have plumbing. They did not have running water. When my grandmother’s mother finally decided she had had enough of child-bearing, she simply threw her husband out of the bedroom.
    That’s how it worked in the “Good Old Days” and that’s how it will be again if all women are denied access to any and all forms of birth control. There will be too many children and not enough money to feed or clothe them. Many will die young. Mothers will die young from complications of childbirth or from botched self-abortions — from sticking things up the vagina in a desperate attempt to pierce the amniotic sac to cause the unborn child to arrive early. Fathers will die young from overwork. We KNOW this will happen. Because that’s what happened before. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

  25. If you will forgive me for making one more statement on this tired subject, I will mention my nursing experience. I was essentially “pro-life” until I began the OB-GYN segment of training. I watched a woman endure the birth of her 14th child — which was trying to come out sideways because her womb was so stretched out of shape from repeated child-bearing. The doctors and nurses tried to convince her to have her tubes tied as soon as the baby was born (eventually by Caesarean section). She agreed as long her husband would go along with it. He would abandon her and the children if she did it on her own, she said. So the whole staff turned to him. He refused. It would reflect badly on his virility, it seems. Later, she died of a massive hemorrhage when baby #15 was on the way.
    Another woman suffered placenta praevia, where the afterbirth comes before the baby, with baby number #9. She narrowly survived but needed blood transfusions. Severely weakened, she required several surgeries to save her womb. The doctor was so proud that he managed to repair her womb, but explained to her that she could never afford to get pregnant again. She understand but hubby balked at that. The virility thing reared its head once more. Yes, she too died when he impregnated her yet again.
    A teenage girl came in with her baby coming at only six months along. She was black and blue after her father had beat her up. He was also the father of the baby.
    My own aunt had an extremely difficult 2nd pregnancy and the child was born with severe cerebral palsy. The baby had to be fed through a tube, suffered seizures, never spoke or walked, never even crawled or learned to turn over. She became with the third and began to doubt her sanity. The 2nd died of pneumonia just before #3 was born and privately she whispered that God had shown her mercy. Without the sanction of their church, they began to use birth control, deciding that they dared not risk another difficult birth after that.
    You see just so many of these kinds of things and you begin to think a bit differently. Maybe it’s not so important that every zygote become a breathing baby. Maybe it’s more important that the babies that come into the world be wanted and loved when they get here. You won’t find that in any sacred book. But you’ll find it in many a woman’s heart.

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