Deciding Public Policy Through Blog Comments

Last month, it was reported that the Bush administration was pushing a change in regulations that is says would protect the conscience of “health-care workers who object to abortion, and to birth-control methods they consider tantamount to abortion” by essentially redefining abortion to include “birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.” 

The regulation would require any entity receiving HHS funding to certify that it does not discriminate against organizations or individuals who do not want to provide services they consider objectionable.

The most controversial section defines abortion as “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

That definition would include most forms of hormonal birth control and the IUD, which most major medical groups believe do not constitute abortion because they primarily affect ovulation or fertilization and not an embryo once it has implanted in the womb.

The regulation would apply to anyone who participates in “any activity with a logical connection to a procedure, health service or health service program, or research activity. . . . This includes referral, training and other arrangements of the procedure, health service, or research activity.”

Not surprisingly, right-wing groups loved the proposed change and pro-choice groups didn’t.  Then, a few days later, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt wrote a blog post about the controversy, saying “The Department is still contemplating if it will issue a regulation or not. If it does, it will be directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience.”  His post generated more than 1100 comments

Leavitt then returned to his blog a few days later to weigh in on the discussion generated by his first post in which he made it clear that he was not particularly moved by opposition to the change: 

This is not a discussion about the rights of a woman to get an abortion. The courts have long ago identified that right and continue to define its limits. This regulation would not be aimed at changing or redefining any of that. This is about the right of a doctor to not participate if he or she chooses for reasons they consider a matter of conscience. Does the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association believe we can protect by Constitution, statute and practice rights of free speech, race, religion, and abortion—but not conscience?

Is the fear here that so many doctors will refuse that it will somehow make it difficult for a woman to get an abortion? That hasn’t happened, but what if it did? Wouldn’t that be an important and legitimate social statement?

I want to reiterate. If the Department of Health and Human Services issues a regulation on this matter, it will aim at one thing, protecting the right of conscience of those who practice medicine. From what I’ve read the last few days, there’s a serious need for it.

When that post generated more than 300 comments, Concerned Women for America took notice, alerting its activists that the post had been “flooded with negative comments from abortion advocates” and urging them to head over and leave comments of their own:

CWA has asked members to protect their rights as patients and show their support for the regulations by adding comments to Secretary Leavitt’s blog.