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Gov. Rendell Expresses Disappointment with Bush Administration's Last-Minute Regulation Limiting Patient Care

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell expressed disappointment today that President Bush and his administration -- now in their waning days -- would push forward a regulation that could compromise patient care and limit a woman's access to medical treatments.

"I'm very disappointed that the Bush administration pushed forward this midnight regulation that establishes a 'refusal clause' rule that could have serious, detrimental impacts on patient care and women's reproductive rights," said Governor Rendell.

"If a woman is raped or is the victim of sexual assault, this regulation allows health care workers to victimize them again by denying treatment. For women living in rural areas, that could mean driving 60 miles to another health care provider for treatment.

"I strongly encourage President-elect Barack Obama to repeal the regulation as soon as possible after taking office on Jan. 20."

Under the regulation, which was published in the Dec. 19 issue of the Federal Register, health care providers could refuse to give a patient a full range of options for medical procedures or treatment if the provider objects to a particular course of action on moral or religious grounds.

For instance, a health worker could refuse to inform women of their reproductive rights and could refuse to provide contraceptive services, including emergency contraception, to victims of rape or sexual abuse.

The commonwealth submitted written comments questioning the need for the regulation as federal and state laws have been in place for approximately 30 years that are similar to the regulation.

Pennsylvania also found that the federal regulation had broad and vague definitions that would lead to confusion regarding provider conscience protections. The commonwealth asked that the regulation be withdrawn or revised before finalizing and recommended a number of amendments that would not violate the rights of women as it pertains to their health needs.

"After a troublingly short review period and despite serious concerns being expressed by numerous stakeholders and individuals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to finalize this rule as quickly as possible and only provided the smallest window of time for accepting public comments that the law allows. It's additionally troubling that the federal agency made no effort to seriously consider and respond to the thousands of reservations and concerns, including the lack of a definition of abortion."

The Governor added that the rushed effort to finalize the rule did not meet the threshold for urgency or the deadlines established by the White House. A May 2008 memo from President Bush's Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolton stated: "Except in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008."

"The Heath and Human Services department has failed to show that any 'extraordinary circumstances' exist that make this rule necessary," said the Governor. "Furthermore, it has ignored the June and November deadlines.

"It's unfortunate that HHS found it necessary to proceed with issuing the final rule, even though Pennsylvania and thousands of other individuals, states and organizations voiced their objections," said Governor Rendell. "Having reviewed the final rule, Pennsylvania is disappointed many of the comments it presented were either not addressed or outright ignored. The Bush administration's decision to proceed in this manner demonstrates a complete failure to consider the interests of Pennsylvanians and all citizens of the United States."

The Governor added that Pennsylvania will continue to review the final rule and its impact on the commonwealth and its residents. The state will also work with the incoming Obama administration, the new HHS secretary, and Congress to rectify the potential negative consequences and seek amendment or repeal of the Provider Conscience Regulation.

    Chuck Ardo

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor
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