September 25, 2008

In comments submitted today to the Bush administration, the New York Civil Liberties Union urged the withdrawal of proposed federal regulations that could jeopardize access to health care services for millions of women in New York and across the country.

The regulations, which apply to three federal laws governing the use of federal funds by states and health care facilities, expand the ability of health care providers to refuse to participate in or provide information about medical care that conflicts with their ideology.

“These regulations show that the Bush administration would hold health care hostage to ideology,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “At a time when millions of Americans cannot afford even to visit a doctor or purchase prescription medication, the president should be making it easier, not harder, to get health care.”

In its comments, the NYCLU argues that the proposed rules could have wide-ranging harmful effects:

  • They permit health care workers to ignore medical standards and refuse to provide complete and accurate information and counseling to women who seek services.
  • They leave open the possibility that federally funded health care professionals and institutions could refuse to provide contraception and other health care services.
  • They could impede the enforcement of state laws in New York, including emergency care laws and professional misconduct laws that require health care providers to treat patients in need of care.
  • They could undermine New York’s ability to enforce laws promoting access to contraception, including laws that require employers to cover prescription contraception in their prescription drug coverage plans and laws requiring hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault.

“Over the years, federal and state laws have struck a careful balance between providers’ religious liberty and patients’ right to access medical care.” said Galen Sherwin, director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “This proposal takes patients out of the equation.”

To date, more than 35,500 people have submitted comments through the ACLU’s website calling on the Bush administration to withdraw the proposed regulations, including around 500 from New York State. The deadline for submitting comments on the regulations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expires today.