Predictably, now the conscience meme has spread beyond the initially promised narrow spectrum of pharmacists, nurses, and doctors to the entire range of healthcare funded by the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services, perhaps bolstered by the growing tendency of state education departments to decide "science" means "whatever we damn well say it is," has taken the mind-bending step of basing crucial biological definitions on public opinion polls. Zogby polls. Which typically have an error in the +/- four million percent range.
In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40% of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. The "Definitions" section of the HHS proposal states,Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term "abortion."
Something like 40% of Americans also believe in the Genesis creation story and eschew evolution, so I expect HHS to make the administration of medications based on evolutionary biology optional as well. Enjoy your camphor oil, people, and be sure to close up your windows tight so you don't get the night vapors!
Jesus. Why does this matter? It matters because of this:
Up until now, the federal government followed the definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association and our nation's pregnancy experts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically unknowable moment (there's no test to determine if a woman's egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she's not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS' new science.
Any woman could be denied contraception by HHS. If your employer-provided health plan continues clinging to a slender thread, you'll be okay, provided, of course, you have access to a pharmacy whose employees are required to do their jobs rather than proselytize. If you rely on federally funded clinics--in other words, if you tend disproportionately to be low-income and/or a woman of color--you're screwed. Twice.
All together, please. Science is indeed a consensus, but it's not a democracy. Public opinion is lovely but has exactly no relevance to the definitions portion of the program. Against abortion? Don't have one. Really super duper against it? Don't go into healthcare.
Thanks to Top!Secret G-woman for the tip, and for starting my day on a very stabby note.