New York: Federal Rule May Harm Women's Health Care

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Governor David A. Paterson today called on the Bush Administration to abandon its plans to adopt regulations that will obstruct access to women's health care and unnecessarily burden the health care system with costly administrative requirements.

The new regulations, proposed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are supposedly designed to clarify existing federal laws prohibiting recipients of HHS funding from discriminating against health care institutions or practitioners that choose not to provide abortion or sterilization procedures because of religious or moral beliefs.

However, the regulations are so vague and overbroad that they could be read to include emergency and oral contraceptives, permitting providers to deny access to such items without even referring patients to another provider that offers them. The regulations appear to go far beyond existing federal law by permitting the refusal of care for reasons other than religious or moral beliefs, and by workers who are only remotely involved in any given procedure or service.

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"At a time when the federal government should be directing scarce health care dollars to improve access to quality care, these proposed regulations would significantly upset the balance between the rights of providers and the rights of patients, tipping the scale away from patients' needs," said Governor Paterson. "I strongly urge the federal government to reconsider this action so that women are able to receive access to quality health care, timely medical treatment and lawful health services."

Additionally, the regulations do not include exceptions for emergency medical procedures, raising the concern, for example, that a woman with an ectopic pregnancy may have to track down a willing provider on her own for appropriate treatment before it is too late. Finally, the regulations require physicians, clinics, hospitals and research organizations to certify compliance with existing law, which will unnecessarily divert scarce resources away from patient care.

On behalf of Governor Paterson and the State of New York, Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. this week submitted comments to HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt urging the immediate withdrawal of these proposed regulations.

Commissioner Daines said: "Professional standards of medical practice recognize the right of providers to refuse to provide abortion or sterilization services on religious or moral grounds, but they also require providers to assume the responsibility to assure patients access to information and services. The regulations proposed by HHS will disrupt that balance and deprive women of medically necessary health care. In an emergency situation, the consequences could be devastating."

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