On his first full day in office, President Bush imposed the “global gag rule,” which prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to international family-planning groups that perform abortions using their own funds or that advocate for safe abortion laws.
Undermining women’s reproductive rights and access to health care has been a pervasive theme of the outgoing administration. On his first full day in office, President Bush imposed the “global gag rule,” which prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to international family-planning groups that perform abortions using their own funds or that advocate for safe abortion laws.
So it was unsurprising, but still dismaying, that the secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt, chose to extend that dismal record at the last minute with yet another awful regulation. A parting gift to the far right, the new regulation aims to hinder women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and the information necessary to make decisions about their own health. What makes it worse is that the policy is wrapped up in a phony claim to safeguard religious freedom.
The law has long allowed doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. Mr. Leavitt’s changes elevate the so-called right to refuse beyond reason to an increased number of medical institutions and a broad range of health care workers and services — including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of emergency contraception, even to rape victims.
The impact will be hardest on poor women who rely on public programs for their health care.
In July, Barack Obama, still a senator at the time, signed a letter to Mr. Leavitt, along with some of his colleagues, urging Mr. Leavitt to scrap an earlier draft of the regulation. It cited a number of problems that were perpetuated in the final version.
The Health and Human Services regulation is due to become effective on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. By acting right away to suspend its implementation, President-elect Barack Obama and his choice to succeed Mr. Leavitt, Tom Daschle, can block irresponsible changes that threaten people’s rights and defy the federal government’s duty on public health.
They should do so, and promptly follow up with a formal rule-making proceeding to rescind the regulation once and for all. And they can get rid of the gag rule.