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Conn. Attorney General Blumenthal Plans To Challenge HHS ‘Conscience’ Rule

January 5th, 2009 • Contributed by Sue Kettner
Posted in: Action, Policy

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Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal plans to challenge the newly released Health and Human Services “Conscience Rule.” Read his comments on the rule and his plans. This may be the first of many challenges to this rule which is scheduled to go into effect January 18, 2009.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) on Friday said that he plans to challenge the new HHS provider “conscience” rule, which he said could override a Connecticut law that requires hospitals to provide emergency contraception to women who have been raped, the AP/New Haven Register reports (AP/New Haven Register, 12/20). The rule, which will take effect on Jan. 18, 2009, allows employees of entities that receive federal grants to refuse to provide medical information and services they object to based on moral or religious beliefs. The more than 584,000 entities that the rule will affect have until Oct. 1, 2009, to submit written certification of their compliance or risk losing federal funding (Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, 12/19).

Blumenthal said that his actions could include a letter, a petition or a court challenge that would argue that the rule violates states’ and patients’ rights. “We went through a very lengthy, painstaking, contentious process to reach our statute in Connecticut and it has worked well for everyone,” he said, adding, “This administration’s new regulation threatens to blow apart that very significant balance of interests and compromises” (Becker, Hartford Courant, 12/20). The Connecticut law, which took effect in 2007, requires hospitals to offer EC to rape survivors, although a third party can be designated to administer the drug. Hospitals also are permitted to conduct a pregnancy test before prescribing EC, but they may not administer other tests — such as ovulation tests — as a condition of prescribing the drug. The Catholic Church opposed the law for two years, but a few days before it was to take effect, Catholic Bishops of Connecticut and Catholic hospital leaders issued a statement saying that “since the teaching authority of the church has not defnitively resolved this matter, and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work,” Catholic hospitals would be allowed to provide EC to rape survivors without first administering ovulation tests. Four of the state’s 30 hospitals are Catholic (AP/New Haven Register, 12/20).

Blumenthal called the new federal regulation “the outgoing Bush administration’s latest and last swipe at women’s health” and said that it upsets the balance between patients’ rights and providers’ beliefs. “This rule is an appalling insult and abuse — a midnight power grab to deny access to health care services and information, even to victims of rape,” he said (Hartford Courant, 12/20).

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