HHS: Fear not for your birth control!

Mike Leavitt swears he isn't attempting to redefine abortion as birth control.

Published August 11, 2008 6:25PM (EDT)

It took him just over three weeks, but Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has finally attempted to allay our fears: He isn't trying to legally redefine birth control as abortion, he says.

On Friday, Leavitt wrote on his official blog: "An early draft of the regulations found its way into public circulation before it had reached my review. It contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion. Not true." Phew, please do go on! He continues: "The Bush Administration has consistently supported the unborn" -- OK, not exactly putting my fears to rest. "However, the issue I asked to be addressed in this regulation is not abortion or contraceptives, but the legal right medical practitioners have to practice according to their conscience ... [If the department issues a regulation,] it will be directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience."

So, it isn't Leavitt's aim to redefine birth control as abortion. But without revising the draft regulation's broad definition of abortion, it would allow for some practitioners to refuse to dispense birth control if they personally define it as abortion -- and there lies our concern. Lawyer and bioethicist R. Alta Charo told the Washington Post, "Until the regulation removes the re-definition of abortion and it clearly states that it deals solely with abortion (and not with any other procedure, nor with any refusals based on the nature of the patient, such as single or gay), I would not be satisfied."

Neither will we. The same goes for Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Women's Law Center and many, many others. We hope -- hah! -- Leavitt will keep that in mind the next time he attempts to allay our worst fears.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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