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Potential Repercussions in Mo Over 11th-Hour Abortion Rule

January 14, 2009

St. Louis, MO – An 11th-hour rule that takes effect Sunday is stirring major controversy by allowing people who provide reproductive health services to refuse information or procedures that violate their consciences. Pro-choice advocates say that, based on the ruling, some women in Missouri could lose access to most forms of birth control.

The ruling by the Bush administration reinforces protections for health care providers who object to providing abortion-related services based on moral or religious beliefs. Starting January 18, pharmacists will be able to refuse to fill birth control prescription, emergency rooms can refuse to give emergency contraception to rape victims, and health providers don't have to discuss birth control options if it violates their consciences. Pro-lifers praise the rule, saying current laws prohibiting discrimination based on religion don't go far enough to protect employees.

Paula Gianino of St. Louis Planned Parenthood says the ruling could restrict health care access at nearly 600,000 health care centers across the nation that work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"That really puts the conscience determinations of individuals above and beyond the health care needs of citizens in this county."

Gianino says Planned Parenthood is considering a hiring freeze to avoid being sued for discrimination by job applicants. Opponents in Congress are already mobilizing to rescind the move, which Gianino feels could take as long as six months. She also says that, with the current economic uncertainty, this is no time to leave women out in the cold and no time to give Congress additional work.

"Given all of the crises facing the 2009 Congress, I think it's very upsetting that President Bush and his administration have put this on the plate of the new Congress."

Despite 200,000 comments opposing the action, Health and Human services issued the new ruling one month ago. Those supporting the new rule expect a battle with the Obama administration over its implementation.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MO