States Oppose Abortion Rule

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The attorneys general of 13 states are challenging President Bush's plan to protect doctors who refuse to perform abortions.

They sent a letter to Washington, protesting that the rule is too vague and threatens a woman's right to choose.

"The proposed regulation completely obliterates the rights of patients to legal and medically necessary health care services in favor of a single-minded focus on protecting a health care provider's right to claim a personal moral or religious belief," the attorneys general said in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposed rule would require hospitals and doctors offices to certify in writing they're obeying federal laws that protect the conscience rights of health care workers.

Last month, the Bush Administration proposed stronger job protections for doctors and health care workers who refused to participate in abortions, because of religious or moral objections.

Pro-life groups called it a victory for the First Amendment, while pro-choice supporters said they feared the rule would be stretched to include birth control.

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Thursday.

The American American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have already voiced their written opinions about the rule.

They said doctors and nurses already not required to perform abortions or sterilizations can refuse to do so. But each health care professional is ethically bound to inform patients about all of their treatment options. If health care professionals cannot or will not provide a certain service, they are ethically obligated to refer patients in a timely manner to someone who can.

"Implementation of this regulation would effectively allow health care providers' personal beliefs to override patients' right to full disclosure of accurate information and available health care resources," the medical associations wrote.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, who has written at length on the need for such a rule, has said the measure is directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience.

"If the Department of Health and Human Services issues a regulation on this matter, it will aim at one thing, protecting the right of conscience of those who practice medicine," Leavitt said.

He continued, "This is not a discussion about the rights of a woman to get an abortion. The courts have long ago identified that right and continue to define its limits. This regulation would not be aimed at changing or redefining any of that. This is about the right of a doctor to not participate if he or she chooses for reasons they consider a matter of conscience."

Source: The Associated Press, The Department of Health & Human Services

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