Redefining contraception treads dangerously

Despite the U.S. president’s record-low approval rating, his administration seems unwilling to accept its impending lame duck period. One and a half months before a pivotal election, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a poorly publicized move, has put forward a controversial regulation that could limit women’s access to contraception.

In September, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt put forward a new policy proposal that would require all federally-funded health care providers to certify that their employees are not required to administer treatments that they find morally objectionable. Physicians have always retained the right to deny a woman an abortion, but now physicians will be protected in their choice not to administer contraception as well.

Protecting the ideological rights of physicians is very important, but if the bounds of what doctors are allowed to opt out of are widened too far, not only women’s but all peoples’ basic health and freedoms will be at risk.

Millions of women count on their physician to provide them with quality, unbiased information and treatments that promote their health interests. Under the new policy, it is possible that women could be denied information on contraception that would help them make the right decision for themselves.

For young women or women in isolated areas, who may be unable to change physicians if theirs is unwilling to provide contraception, the new policy could mean resorting to less effective or more dangerous means of over-the-counter birth control (such as Plan B), negating the very reason they employed a physician in the first place.

Millions of American women use birth control to avoid having children they cannot take adequate care of or do not want, and millions more use it to merely to regulate their reproductive systems or for other hormonal issues like migraines or ovarian cysts. The Bush administration is treading on dangerous ground in trying to deny women information about and access to the treatments they need to make decisions regarding their own futures.