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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) led a Congressional letter to President Obama calling on him to rescind a short-sighted Health and Human Services rule that would undermine critical health care services for women and families.  The rule, which was finalized by the Bush Administration, requires any health care entity that receives federal financing to certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.

Murray, who with former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, led the effort against the rule and introduced legislation to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush from moving forward with this rule. 

“On the first day of his administration, President Bush reinstated the Mexico City global gag clause, a harsh, anti-family planning policy that hurt the world’s poorest women and children.  And on his way out the door he succeeded in implementing a rule that could limit women’s health care options here at home,” Senator Murray said.  “That’s why on this anniversary – and the second full day of President Obama’s term – we are asking the new Administration to rescind the short-sighted decision of the previous White House.”

“I look forward to working with President Obama and HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle to ensure safe and appropriate health care access for patients across our nation.”

Murray’s letter was signed by twenty-one Senators and sixty-seven U.S. Representatives. 

The text of the letter along with the full list of signatories follows:

January 22, 2009

Dear President Obama,

In the waning days of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a regulation that will significantly limit patients’ access to both health care services and important information about their health care options. We respectfully request you to proceed immediately with a formal rule-making process to rescind the rule.

The rule purports to interpret three existing federal refusal clauses—the Church Amendments, the Public Health Service (PHS) Act § 245 (Coates Amendment), and the Weldon Amendment—that allow certain health care providers to deny abortion and sterilization services to patients. In fact, the newly finalized rule (‘‘Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law’’, 73 Fed. Reg. 78072, December 19, 2008) goes much further. The regulation goes beyond Congressional intent in these underlying statutes and could jeopardize women’s access to needed healthcare services, including contraception.

The rule significantly expands the reach of the relevant statutes, and in doing so, clearly undermines Congressional intent. For example, the final rule defines statutory terms (such as “assist in the performance”) so broadly that it would allow virtually any employee or a volunteer at any HHS-funded entity with even a remote or tangential connection to a health care service, including those who solely provide information, referrals, or clean equipment to refuse to perform that job function—regardless of the needs of patients. The rule also leaves the term “abortion” undefined and permits doctors, nurses, insurance plans, hospitals, and nearly any other employee in a health care setting to use the rule to deny access to most forms of birth control by allowing personal interpretation and political agendas to limit patients’ access to care.

Furthermore, the rule undermines many important state laws that protect the health and lives of women. It could threaten rape survivors who could lose access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms in the 14 states that now guarantee it, and might even prevent women from learning this option exists. Similarly, it could undermine laws in six states ensuring that pharmacists fill women’s birth control prescriptions. The rule could also undermine efforts to enhance or enact these and other protections in other states.

The vast majority of Americans—regardless of their position on reproductive choice—believe that increasing access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies and reduces the need for abortion. This is why a bipartisan coalition of more than 150 members of Congress; a bipartisan group of Governors; and an overwhelming number of elected officials, attorneys general and 80 organizations, including the American Medical Association, joined more than 200,000 people who issued public comments against the regulation.

At a time when 45 million Americans are uninsured and women and families are already struggling to obtain basic health care, it is unconscionable to make access to health care even more difficult. This rule will restrict health care access everywhere and undermine health care access at nearly 600,000 health care centers, pharmacies, and hospitals across the country.

We look forward to your leadership in ensuring that access for millions of American women to affordable and effective reproductive health care is not threatened by this dangerous and misguided rule. Again, we urge you to proceed with a formal rule-making process to rescind the rule.



Patty Murray
Barbara Boxer
John F. Kerry
Patrick J. Leahy
Sherrod Brown
Debbie Stabenow
Jeff Bingaman
Tom Harkin
Barbara Mikulski
Frank R. Lautenberg
Ron Wyden
Christopher J. Dodd
Mark Udall
Richard Durbin
Maria Cantwell
Claire McCaskill
Bernard Sanders
Sheldon Whitehouse
Robert Menendez
Max Baucus
Jeanne Shaheen
U.S. Representatives:

Diana DeGette
Louise McIntosh Slaughter
Neil Abercrombie
Gary Ackerman
Tammy Baldwin
Shelley Berkley
Melissa Bean
Howard Berman
Robert Brady
Lois Capps
André Carson
Yvette Clark
Gerry Connolly
Joseph Crowley
Susan Davis
Rosa DeLauro
Eliot Engel
Sam Farr
Bob Filner
Barney Frank
Gabrielle Giffords
Gene Green
Raúl Grijalva
Luis Gutierrez
John Hall
Jane Harman
Maurice Hinchey
Mazie Hirono
Paul Hodes
Rush Holt
Jay Inslee
Hank Johnson
Patrick Kennedy
Mary Jo Kilroy
Dennis Kucinich
Rick Larsen
Barbara Lee
Sander Levin
John Lewis
Dave Loebsack
Zoe Lofgren
Nita Lowey
Carolyn Maloney
James McGovern
Jim McDermott
Brad Miller
Dennis Moore
Gwen Moore
Christopher Murphy
Patrick Murphy
Jerrold Nadler
Jared Polis
Steve Rothman
Lucille Roybal-Allard
Dutch Ruppersberger
Linda Sanchez
Allyson Schwartz
Adam Smith
Jackie Speier
Pete Stark
Mike Thompson
Nikki Tsongas
Chris Van Hollen
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Henry Waxman
Peter Welch
Lynn Woolsey