The ways in which Bush & Co are shredding or completely reformulating federal laws --- as they leave office --- boggles the mind.
That they pay no heed to U.S. Senators and that they use their last months in office to weaken long-established laws and to embolden ideologues leaves little doubt that they won't leave office with a whimper.
The latest effort (which met with stiff Senate opposition several weeks ago) is a revised HHS regulation that will limit women's access to reproductive health care services, including information and access to contraceptives and abortions:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health officials released a controversial regulation on Thursday to protect health professionals who do not want to provide abortions or certain other health care services.
The regulation could strip federal funding from employers or institutions that fire a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other health professional who refuses to provide abortion care or information.
To listen to HHS Secretary, Michael Leavitt, tell it, the regulation simply "enforces" existing laws and will not harm a woman's ability to receive access to contraceptives or abortions:
"This is about protecting the right of a physician to practice medicine according to his or her moral compass," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt told reporters in a conference call. "There is nothing in this rule that would in any way change a patient's right to a legal procedure."
He said it enforces three existing federal laws. Those laws allow providers to opt out of offering the abortion pill RU-486 and emergency contraception.
But the new regulation will make it more difficult for women to obtain accurate information about abortions and contraception, in addition to giving ideologically driven health care providers, including pharmacists, greater power to deny women abortion and contraceptive services and could have a chilling effect on the availability of family planning services and information, including abortion and contraception. Sens. Hillary Clinton, Patty Murray and 26 of their colleagues pointed out in an Aug. 8 letter to Leavitt that there was no need for a new regulation since there are now three laws on the books that protect health providers' moral and religious beliefs:
We remain concerned by the regulations’ potential to create barriers for women seeking health care, to jeopardize federal programs that provide family-planning services and to disrupt state laws securing women's access to birth control. Currently, federal law exists to protect a provider’s religious and moral beliefs. Therefore, the purpose of a new rule to this end remains unclear.
The letter requested a response to their concerns and questions; none was forthcoming. Leavitt, however, issued "comments" on his HHS blog, instead, prior to announcing the new ruling.
Now, Clinton and Murray are vowing to fight the proposed regulation:
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), who led the Senate's efforts to preempt Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt's move to issue a rule that could have impacted access to comprehensive family planning for millions of American women, today decried HHS's decision to move forward with a modified rule that would put ideology over women’s health by putting in place barriers to receiving quality, affordable health care and scientifically-proven, accurate information for those who need it the most.
There is a 30-day comment period in effect prior to the final regulation taking effect. The complete press release announcing the ruling is here. The regulation, as it is now written, with instructions about how to comment, is here.