Very little about the Bush administration could surprise me anymore, but I was completely disheartened when -- despite the written opposition from more than 200,000 Americans, 150 members of Congress, a bipartisan coalition of governors and attorneys general, the American Medical Association, and women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood -- the Department of Health and Human Services issued a last minute regulation that will undermine health care access at nearly 600,000 pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals across the country.
This sort of "take the drapes on your way out" approach is the final chapter of an administration that has prized political ideology over health care for their entire eight years -- and the rule issued yesterday, with little more than 30 days left in office, is the ultimate holiday gift to the extreme right.
Under this new rule, doctors and health care workers of all kinds can deny patients vital health care information and services, without the patient even knowing. No patient is exempt from the reach of this rule: sexual assault victims could be denied information about emergency contraception that could prevent unintended pregnancy, moms hoping to time their pregnancies can be denied contraception at their local pharmacy, young adults hoping to be tested for sexually transmitted infections could be denied treatment by health care employees who oppose premarital sex.
In short, this rule is likely to create total chaos in an already stressed health care system, and for low-income women and families, this rule may spell the end of the few available health care options. Essentially, any patient that utilizes health care at a provider that receives any federal funds will be subject to the luck of the draw in terms of what kinds of reproductive health care they are offered. This might seem far-fetched, until you realize that groups like Pharmacists for Life have campaigned nationally to have pharmacies refuse to provide women birth control prescribed by their physician.
If you had any doubt that this rule is about politics, not health care, just watch the high-fives among the far right. "This is a huge victory for religious freedom and the First Amendment," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
The bottom line in health care has always been that patients' health comes first; this regulation turns that basic tenet on its head. In fact, they failed to address the basic questions of patients' rights lodged by hundreds of thousands of Americans during that period.
For months, Planned Parenthood has spoken out against the proposed regulation. When a draft version of the rule was leaked last summer, we were the first out of the gate to point out the damage this regulation could do to women's health care. And, in the days and weeks to come, we will work with the new administration and Congress to overturn this disastrous rule. Our goal has always been to expand -- not limit -- patients' access to full health care information and services. If you want to help, please sign our petition.
And count your blessings that this administration is almost finished.
Cross-posted on RH Reality Check.