Federal Proposal Could Hurt State Efforts on Contraceptive Coverage
On Wednesday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) and family planning advocates raised concerns that a proposed regulation by the Bush administration would limit California's ability to enforce a state law requiring employer health plans to include coverage for contraception, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The 2000 California law provides exceptions for employees of churches, but the state Supreme Court in 2004 upheld provisions of the law that extend the requirement to Catholic hospitals and charities.
The Bush administration proposal is intended to implement laws that bar recipients of federal funding from penalizing health care practitioners who refuse to perform abortions or refer patients to other providers for abortions. The measure defines abortion as a procedure or drug that ends a pregnancy, "whether before or after implantation."
Catholic Charities and other employers who oppose abortion rights would be covered under the proposed regulation because it would define health insurers as health care practitioners.
Planned Parenthood spokesperson Ellen Golombeck said the proposed regulation would apply to common oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices.
In an Aug. 4 letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, Brown wrote, "By financially punishing noncompliant states with the loss of (federal) funding, the regulation would intrude on the authority of states to enact and enforce laws that ensure women's access to birth control."
Violating the proposed regulation would put California at risk of losing about $37 billion in federal funding annually.
On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org submitted 325,000 signatures urging Leavitt to withdraw the proposed regulation.
In an Aug. 7 blog entry, Leavitt wrote that the regulation's focus "is not abortion or contraception, but the legal right medical practitioners have to practice according to their conscience" and patients' rights to seek physicians with similar beliefs.
In the entry, Leavitt wrote that HHS has not decided whether it would issue the proposal as a regulation (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21).