HHS Poised to Issue Midnight Regulation Jeopardizing Women’s Health
Washington, D.C. – Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget urging OIRA to take its responsibilities seriously with respect to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is moving forward with a final regulation that will allow health care providers to withhold vital health care information and services from patients. “It’s unconscionable that the Bush administration, while promising a smooth transition, would take a final opportunity to politicize women’s health,” said PPFA President Cecile Richards. “People want government to find commonsense solutions to problems, not to create them by allowing health care providers to withhold critical information and services at a time when affordable health care is hard enough to come by.” Currently, there are 45.7 million uninsured Americans, and more than 17 million women need assistance accessing family planning services. “Ultimately, low-income women, who already face tremendous obstacles getting health care and rely more on public programs, will be hit the hardest by this regulation,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This new rule violates a woman’s rights and needs as a patient and, in the end, only erects new barriers to her access to reproductive health care.” “Federal law has sought to balance protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The proposed regulation, being pushed through at the 11th hour of the Bush administration, takes patients’ health needs out of the equation,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “At a time when more and more Americans are either uninsured or struggling with the soaring costs of health care, the federal government should be expanding, not hampering access to important health services.” In May 2008, the White House issued a directive to administrative agencies to submit all proposed regulations by June 1, 2008, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” The purpose of the deadline was to ensure that agencies did not engage in ill-conceived rulemaking prior to a change of administration. Yet HHS submitted its proposed rule in late August 2008 and put it on the fast track with a shortened 30-day public comment period and no public hearing. Despite the shortened comment period, roughly 200,000 comments were submitted in opposition to this regulation from medical associations, women’s health organizations, members of Congress, state governors and attorneys general, religious leaders, and the general public. Yet, at this point, the administration is dangerously close to issuing a final rule that would be disastrous to women’s health less than 60 days before the next administration takes office. The Bush administration has failed entirely to explain how the HHS regulation meets the “extraordinary circumstances” standard laid out in the May 2008 White House directive, and it is the responsibility of the OIRA to hold the administration accountable.