Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., blasted a Bush administration proposal Friday that would change the definition of abortion and, she argues, limit women's access to contraception.
The draft proposal written by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which began circulating around Capitol Hill this week, would require hospitals receiving federal funds to hire medical personnel who oppose forms of contraception including birth control pills.
But Democratic critics including Clinton warn that the Bush administration changes would have "damaging" consequences on women's ability to access birth control.
"The more I learn about these rules by the Bush administration, the more appalled I am and the more determined I am to stop them," Clinton said.
"This is a gratuitous, unnecessary insult to the women of the United States of America. These rules pose a dire threat to women's health, to health-care providers, and to uninsured and low-income Americans seeking care. It is a disgrace, but unfortunately it is not a surprise."
Clinton and other prominent Democratic lawmakers including Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., believe that the proposal poses a serious threat to women's access to contraception.
"Women would watch their contraception coverage disappear overnight," Clinton said Friday outside New York City's Bellevue Hospital.
The New York senator argued that the proposal would "allow health-care providers to classify many forms of contraception as abortions and therefore refuse to provide contraception to women who need it," -- even when state laws guarantee it.
New York, for example, is one of 14 states with laws guaranteeing women's access to emergency contraception, but Clinton warned that the new proposal could change that, leaving sexual assault victims helpless.
"Under these Bush rules, an ideologically-driven hospital administrator or an emergency room supervisor or a doctor or a nurse on duty could deny this woman access to emergency contraception, so the woman who survived the assault would now be at risk of becoming pregnant, denied the care she needs in her hour of greatest need," she said.
Current federal law prohibits health-care providers and organizations from discriminating against people who won't provide abortions or birth control. The Bush administration's new draft proposal would require these agencies to certify in writing their compliance with the law before getting funding from HHS.
The Health department released a brief statement this week arguing that it's looking into various options in an effort to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
"Over the past three decades, Congress has passed several anti-discrimination laws to protect institutional and individual health care providers participating in federal programs. HHS has an obligation to enforce these laws, and is exploring a number of options," the statement reads.
However, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., speaking alongside Clinton Friday, disagreed.
"Officials at HHS claim that this rule is just a clarification of the law," Lowey said. "Well, that's just not true. This proposal goes leaps and bounds beyond current law."
Lowey noted that the draft proposal defines abortion as "any of the various procedures that results in the procedures that result in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth whether before or after implantation."
"Last time I checked, by medical definition, a pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg implants in a woman's uterine wall," Lowey said. "The mainstream medical community is very clear on this point and even a Bush administration stacked with conservative anti-family planning ideologues can't change basic science."
Lowey is working with her colleagues in the House of Representatives to send a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt demanding that he stop this proposal.
Lowey said Friday that 90 of her fellow House lawmakers have already signed on to the letter. Clinton and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also wrote to Leavitt earlier this week.
The White House has refused to comment. "We don't talk about possible proposed rules," White House deputy spokesperson Tony Fratto told ABC News.
But Democrats, led by Clinton, are already warning the Bush administration to prepare for a fight.
"We will fight you every step of the way," Clinton said of the president.
"It is an end run around the rights of women to make choices about our own health and we are not going to stand for it," said Clinton. "We will not put up with this radical ideological agenda to turn the clock back on women's rights."
Pelosi demanded that Bush "reject this policy."
"The majority of Americans oppose this out-of-touch position that redefines contraception as abortion and represents a sustained pattern of the Bush administration to reject medical and sound science in favor of a misguided ideology that has no place in our government," Pelosi wrote in a statement this week.