September 25 was the deadline for submitting public comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on its proposed regulation designed to expand the refusal rights of individuals and institutions in the health care and research fields. The rule purports to protect those who object to providing or assisting in the provision of services that offend their religious beliefs or moral convictions, but contains serious flaws that could negatively affect many aspects of health care provision in the United States.
It will take some time to conduct a final accounting of comments in favor of and in opposition to the new rule. But it is clear that the public response was wide-ranging and heated, with thousands of comments having been submitted. Most notable is the broad range of organizations and individuals that submitted letters strongly opposing the rule (among them the Guttmacher Institute). They include:
- medical professional associations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association;
- civil and human rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Watch;
- associations of state health officials, such as the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and the National Association of County and City Health Officials;
- international assistance and advocacy groups, such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Population Services International, the International Women’s Health Coalition and the Global AIDS Alliance (DHHS also funds global AIDS programs);
- religious groups, such as the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the United Methodist Church;
- state officials, including at least 14 state attorneys general and seven governors;
- at least 28 U.S. senators, including Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Joe Biden (D-DE), and numerous members of the House; and
- every major national reproductive health or woman’s advocacy group in the country.
The Guttmacher letter warns that the new rule “has the potential to seriously undermine the integrity of the U.S. health care system; create substantial confusion for individual and institutional health care providers, state and local governments, and academic and other research institutions; and, most dangerously, impede individuals’ access to critically important health care services that they need and want, and even basic information related thereto.… In our view, the regulation is fatally flawed.”
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