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Controversy Over Leaked HSS Proposal To Change Definition of Birth Control

August 12, 2008

Nashville, TN – It's a different kind of "language barrier." Controversy has erupted over a leaked "draft" rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that shows officials are considering changing the definition of abortion.

The concern comes as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reviews draft regulation that would deny federal funding to hospitals and clinics that require medical providers to offer abortion services.

Under the proposed language, family planning and women’s health advocates say access to birth control, such as the pill, could be limited. The draft proposal of federal rules would redefine "abortion" as anything that affects a fertilized egg. Family planning advocates warn that this broader definition would include most forms of hormonal birth control, intra-uterine devices (IUDs), and the type of emergency contraception commonly known as the "morning-after pill."

In his public blog, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt denies the reclassification of several common contraceptives, and says the agency's main concern is to allow health care workers to refuse to participate in procedures they find objectionable.

Women's health advocates remain concerned about potentially broad-ranging effects that will limit access to birth control.

Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, sees the proposal as a last-ditch attempt by what he calls an "extreme anti-choice Administration" to reward the Religious Right for its support. The group most likely to be affected, Teague says, is low-income women who rely on publicly-funded family planning clinics. However, he contends, there are some outcomes that the current Administration might not have considered.

"If women do have unintended pregnancies, they may end up having children who will need federal assistance. The other possibility is that, if it leads to unintended pregnancies, it may increase the number of abortions that are provided as well. It is the most over-reaching regulation we've ever seen, and it's extreme."

Barbara Dab/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - TN