12/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sens. Clinton and Murray Introduce Legislation to Block New HHS Refusal Rule

Originally posted at RH Reality Check -- Information, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray have introduced legislation that would block new Department of Health and Human Services provider conscience regulations from going into effect, Planned Parenthood announced today. The proposed HHS rule would require any health care entity that receives federal funds certify that none of its employees are required to assist with medical services they find objectionable.

"In the final days of his administration, the President is again putting ideology first and attempting to roll back health care protections for women and families," said Sen. Clinton in a statement. "The fact that the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] was never consulted in the drafting of this rule further illustrates that this is purely a political ploy." In fact, EEOC officials have publicly opposed the rule, saying that the regulations upset the balance between respect accorded to provider and patient conscience.

Clinton and Murray met with HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in September to express their concern over the new regulation, but received no assurances that the regulation wouldn't impede women's access to basic health care services like contraception. "While I appreciate the Secretary sitting down with us today, we received no guarantee that women's access to contraceptives will be protected if these rules move forward," Sen. Murray said at the time. And in July, twenty-eight senators joined Clinton and Murray in signing a letter in opposition to the new regulations (President-Elect Obama was one of the signatories). Clinton and Murray are long-time champions of women's health; by holding up Andrew von Eschenbach's confirmation as permanent FDA commissioner, the pair forced the FDA to approve emergency contraception for over-the-counter access.

The new regulations are opposed by women's health groups, physicians' groups, members of Congress, President-elect Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and by over 200,000 individual commenters filing opposition to the regulations. They also appear to violate the Bush administration's own memorandum which directed departments not to engage in "midnight policymaking," except in the case of exceptional circumstances. In May 2008, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten directed all heads of executive departments and agencies to submit all proposed regulations before June 1, 2008, in order to "resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months." The administration has not explained why these regulations rise to the level of exceptional circumstance. HHS has not yet released the new regulations, but they are expected in the coming days.

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