Women's Health Debate Reaches Boiling Point

325,000 sign petition against administration's women's health proposal.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 2:49 PM

Aug. 21, 2008— -- Federal regulations that hundreds of thousands of people fear will stifle women's access to reproductive health care were proposed Thursday after months of speculation.

The Department of Health and Human Services today announced the proposed rule that touches on the hot-button subject of abortion rights, a day after more than a quarter of a million people voiced objections to an earlier draft of the government proposal.

In less than one week, more than 325,000 people signed a petition objecting to the government proposal, Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org said Wednesday.

The people who signed the petition circulated by Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org are up in arms over the administration's proposal that first surfaced as a draft earlier than intended this summer.

Those who signed the petition asked the Department of Health and Human Services not to alter the rules for how federal funds are doled out to health care providers.

"Our opinion is that this drastically impacts women's health care and their access to birth control and actually takes some forms of birth control and interprets them as abortion, particularly hormonal birth control," said Ellen Golombek, vice president of external affairs for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a Wednesday news conference.

The HHS proposal says more regulations are needed to prevent those who refuse to hire doctors and nurses opposed to abortion rights from receiving federal funds. The proposal stresses that according to current laws, doctors and nurses who oppose the right to abortion cannot be discriminated against for their personal beliefs on women's health.

On Thursday, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt said it would give doctors and nurses more freedom to follow their conscience.

"The basic idea is that people should not be forced to say or do things they believe are morally wrong," Leavitt said Thursday. "In particular, health care providers should not be forced to perform services they feel violate their own conscience."