By Allie Bohm, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
What would you do if you went to your doctor to ask about ways of preventing pregnancy and your doctor neglected to mention birth control pills, IUDs, or other forms of contraception? What if a clinic receptionist refused to schedule an appointment for an HIV-test because he knew you were gay? Or, if you were a rape victim and the emergency room clinician not only denied you emergency contraception, but also declined to inform you that you could get it at the pharmacy down the street?
It sounds crazy, but the Health Care Denial Regulation — finalized in the eleventh hour of the Bush administration — invites this sort of behavior. The rule appears to permit institutions and individuals to deny women access to birth control and, moreover, to refuse to provide information and counseling about basic health care services, including information about abortion. It might even prevent states from enforcing their own laws requiring hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors, requiring insurers to include contraceptives in their prescription drug benefit packages, and requiring pharmacies to dispense all valid prescriptions.
And, what's more, this regulation is unnecessary. The Bush administration pushed the regulation through in the name of religious freedom, but for years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients' access to reproductive health care (PDF). The regulation takes patients' health needs out of the equation.
Fortunately, the Obama administration has taken the first step toward restoring the balance. On March 10, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposal to rescind Bush's Health Care Denial Regulation. The public comment period on the proposal ends on April 9, which means we have less than three weeks to convince HHS that it's making the right decision.
Give the administration the backing it needs. Add your name to the growing list of people and organizations calling on the Obama administration to restore access to health care. Take action now, and then be sure to post the ACLU's handy web button on your web page, and forward our alert to everyone in your address book who cares about restoring access to basic reproductive health care.