Letter to President Barrack Obama
On 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Ruling, Murray Leads Letter Asking President Obama to Rescind Bush HHS Rule
Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) led a Congressional letter to President Obama calling on him to rescind a short-sighted Health and Human Services rule that would undermine critical health care services for women and families. The rule, which was finalized by the Bush Administration, requires any health care entity that receives federal financing to certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.
Murray, who with former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, led the effort against the rule and introduced legislation to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush from moving forward with this rule.
"On the first day of his administration, President Bush reinstated the Mexico City global gag clause, a harsh, anti-family planning policy that hurt the world's poorest women and children. And on his way out the door he succeeded in implementing a rule that could limit women's health care options here at home," Senator Murray said. "That's why on this anniversary - and the second full day of President Obama's term - we are asking the new Administration to rescind the short-sighted decision of the previous White House."
"I look forward to working with President Obama and HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle to ensure safe and appropriate health care access for patients across our nation."
Murray's letter was signed by twenty-one Senators and sixty-seven U.S. Representatives.
The text of the letter along with the full list of signatories follows:
January 22, 2009
Dear President Obama,
In the waning days of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a regulation that will significantly limit patients' access to both health care services and important information about their health care options. We respectfully request you to proceed immediately with a formal rule-making process to rescind the rule.
The rule purports to interpret three existing federal refusal clausesthe Church Amendments, the Public Health Service (PHS) Act § 245 (Coates Amendment), and the Weldon Amendmentthat allow certain health care providers to deny abortion and sterilization services to patients. In fact, the newly finalized rule (Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law'', 73 Fed. Reg. 78072, December 19, 2008) goes much further. The regulation goes beyond Congressional intent in these underlying statutes and could jeopardize women's access to needed healthcare services, including contraception.
The rule significantly expands the reach of the relevant statutes, and in doing so, clearly undermines Congressional intent. For example, the final rule defines statutory terms (such as "assist in the performance") so broadly that it would allow virtually any employee or a volunteer at any HHS-funded entity with even a remote or tangential connection to a health care service, including those who solely provide information, referrals, or clean equipment to refuse to perform that job functionregardless of the needs of patients. The rule also leaves the term "abortion" undefined and permits doctors, nurses, insurance plans, hospitals, and nearly any other employee in a health care setting to use the rule to deny access to most forms of birth control by allowing personal interpretation and political agendas to limit patients' access to care.
Furthermore, the rule undermines many important state laws that protect the health and lives of women. It could threaten rape survivors who could lose access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms in the 14 states that now guarantee it, and might even prevent women from learning this option exists. Similarly, it could undermine laws in six states ensuring that pharmacists fill women's birth control prescriptions. The rule could also undermine efforts to enhance or enact these and other protections in other states.
The vast majority of Americansregardless of their position on reproductive choicebelieve that increasing access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies and reduces the need for abortion. This is why a bipartisan coalition of more than 150 members of Congress; a bipartisan group of Governors; and an overwhelming number of elected officials, attorneys general and 80 organizations, including the American Medical Association, joined more than 200,000 people who issued public comments against the regulation.
At a time when 45 million Americans are uninsured and women and families are already struggling to obtain basic health care, it is unconscionable to make access to health care even more difficult. This rule will restrict health care access everywhere and undermine health care access at nearly 600,000 health care centers, pharmacies, and hospitals across the country.
We look forward to your leadership in ensuring that access for millions of American women to affordable and effective reproductive health care is not threatened by this dangerous and misguided rule. Again, we urge you to proceed with a formal rule-making process to rescind the rule.
John F. Kerry
Patrick J. Leahy
Frank R. Lautenberg
Christopher J. Dodd
Louise McIntosh Slaughter
Mary Jo Kilroy
Chris Van Hollen
Debbie Wasserman Schultz