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Attorney General Brown Seeks to Block Bush Administration Attack on Contraception and Abortion Rights

Thursday, January 15, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

SACRAMENTO—California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today joined a lawsuit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to halt the implementation of a Bush Administration “midnight regulation” that could potentially “endanger a woman’s right to contraception,” including emergency contraception given to rape victims.

“California has carefully and thoughtfully struck a balance between the right to use contraceptives and the right of healthcare providers to abstain from administering them,” Attorney General Brown said. “This illegal and stealth regulation threatens to erode women’s hard fought privacy rights.”

Poised to take effect on the day of President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, the regulation undercuts state contraception laws and jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal public health money.

On December 19, 2008, DHHS issued the regulation, one of several highly controversial “midnight regulations” issued in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The regulation purports to implement three federal funding restrictions designed to force states to permit healthcare providers to refuse to provide certain health care to which the providers have a religious, moral or ethical objection. If California does not comply with the new federal regulation, it stands to lose millions, if not billions, in federal funding.

One of the most objectionable aspects of the new federal regulation is its failure to define the word “abortion.” An earlier draft contained a very broad definition that would have clearly included some forms of contraception, including emergency contraception. In comments filed with the DHHS in September, Attorney General Brown pointed out that the failure to include a definition of so critical a term would allow the term to be “improperly extended beyond the scope of the authorizing statutes and does not afford meaningful protection for a woman’s access to other healthcare services, including those involving contraception and fertility treatments.” Instead of addressing widespread concern about the term, the DHHS eliminated the definition entirely.

California law allows healthcare workers and providers to object to dispensing contraception or performing abortions for moral or ethical reasons if they notify their employer of their objection in writing. The new federal regulation would reduce the healthcare protections afforded to women in California by allowing a healthcare provider to refuse procedures or referrals to which the provider objects without notifying the employer, the facility or the patient.

In today’s lawsuit, California joins six other states in challenging the regulation on the grounds that it :
• Fails to define “abortion.” By failing to define the term, DHHS created unnecessary ambiguity, allowing the term to be interpreted as encompassing all forms of contraception.
• Deprives patients of the right to receive factual and objective medical information and access to medical information.
• Overrides states’ rights to promote the general health and welfare of their citizens.

“We applaud Attorney General Jerry Brown’s proactive stance in protecting patients’ access to vital health care services and information,” said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “This HHS regulation poses a serious barrier to the states’ enforcement of their laws protecting patients.”

The complaint and accompanying exhibits are attached.

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