Going too far: Proposed rule affects contraceptive information

Published August 25, 2008 8:04 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mike Leavitt, secretary of federal Health and Human Services, says doctors, nurses and other health care workers should not "be forced to provide services that violate their own conscience." Instead, a new rule Leavitt is proposing would, in essence, force poor women to limit their health care choices to just those that are morally acceptable to taxpayer-funded providers.

Now that is morally suspect.

The rule would allow anyone who works at a clinic or hospital that receives federal Title X funds to refuse to do their job if it means that, as a result, a woman could get access to a contraceptive or surgical procedure that the worker believes is morally wrong.

In Utah, Planned Parenthood is the only recipient of Title X funds.

No one is arguing that a doctor or nurse should be forced to perform an abortion if he or she condemns the procedure. That exercise of conscience is already protected under federal law. But this proposed rule goes far beyond the abortion issue. It could mean a woman who visits a federally funded clinic might not receive information about contraceptive options, including emergency contraceptives that could prevent a rape victim from becoming pregnant. That is medically indefensible.

Some people's religions or personal principles dictate that abortion and surgical sterilization are always wrong, and some belief systems extend that abhorance to contraceptives. But the reality is that contraception, for most people, is a health issue, not a moral issue.

If an emergency room doctor does not explain all options available to a woman after she has been raped, that doctor is derelict in his or her duty to the patient. The same goes for doctors who won't help a woman who simply wants to prevent a pregnancy for any reason.

The doctor should not be forced to hand out a contraceptive and certainly should not be forced to recommend an emergency contraceptive or abortion. But a patient has a right to information she needs to make the decision herself and should not be deprived of it because of someone else's beliefs.

Leavitt, Utah's former governor, says doctors who oppose contraceptives and abortion are victims of discrimination if they are required to simply explain all available options. But it's a worse form of discrimination to keep vital medical information from women simply because they can't afford a private clinic or hospital.

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