Aug 01, 2008

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The Bush administration is at it again - that is, pushing its religious agenda, this time by limiting reproductive freedom.

In the final months of his administration, Bush is trying to force through a draft regulation that will "deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not accommodate employees who want to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions," the Washington Post reported yesterday. In other words, if a pharmacist doesn't want to fill a birth control prescription, he doesn't have to.

Advocates of this regulation, of course most coming from religiously-based organizations, are painting this as an anti-discrimination measure - ensuring that people who oppose contraceptives and abortion do not have to go against their religion in order to work for a hospital or health care entity. The report cites to "numerous cases in which health-care workers had to violate their consciences by providing birth control pills and other controversial medicine and conducting controversial procedures.

This concern over discrimination and religious liberty is the Religious Right's continual strategy to push its very narrow viewpoint on the rest of the country. But this time it is quite clear, even to medical experts and scientists, where this regulation stems from.

A National Institute of Health researcher told the Post, "It's a redefinition of abortion that does not match any of the current medical definitions. It's ideologically based and not based on science and could interfere with the development of many new therapies to treat diseases."

Jill Morrison of the National Women's Law Center told the Post, "You could imagine a group of people with less than honorable intentions seeking to get hired at a family planning clinic with the specific objective of obstructing access. Under this regulation, there is little you can do about it."

And that is just what Bush and these religious-based organizations want.  

Tom McClusky, a strategist with the Family Research Council, told the Wall Street Journal that it "would be fantastic," if the draft regulation prompted some insurance companies to drop coverage for prescription birth control.

I don't understand how this can be done in the name of religious liberty. If a female pharmacist is opposed to birth-control pills on religious grounds, she doesn't have to take them herself. But she doesn't have the religious freedom to force others to agree with her moral convictions by denying them access to medicine that has been prescribed by a doctor.

It is imperative that the government respects American diversity by not imposing one tradition's narrow view (that of the Religious Right) on the entire  country.

Thankfully, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to Bush to stop this regulation. The letter says the draft regulation's "definitions are so broad as to go far beyond abortion politics and threaten virtually any law or policy designed to protect women's access to safe and effective birth control."

There is a great irony here. Religious Right groups complain constantly about the abortion rate in America. Birth control, if properly and consistently used, could reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. Yet these groups are so extreme they stand in the way of that by limiting Americans' access to artificial contraceptives - all because of their narrow reading of the Bible or religious decrees.

Let's hope pressure from Congress puts an end to what is hopefully one of the last of Bush's ridiculous "faith-based" schemes.