In a July 31, 2008 article in the Washington Post, the Department of Health and Human Resources is developing a rule which would allow healthcare personnel to refuse to dispense care which they found morally or religiously objectionable. The goal is to provide legal underpinning to those institutions and persons who receive federal funds but wish to refuse to perform abortions or give out contraception deemed tantamount to abortion. Thus a woman who had been raped or pregnant as the result of either rape or incest might be denied treatment and have her trauma added to by having to go from hospital to hospital or from healthcare giver to healthcare giver until she found one willing to treat her. It is difficult to see how such a moral and religious exception could not be used as legal cover to deny treatment to other groups, such as gays, minorities, or the poor. The rule’s definition of abortion is sweeping:
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.
It also slips in the controversial notion that from the moment of fertilization onward the embryo is a human being, and one would assume with the same Constitutional rights and protections as other citizens. The problem, one among many, is that this is a profoundly anti-scientific view. Many fertilized eggs spontaneously abort due to lethal genetic combinations or they fail to implant. How does the HHS intend to address the legal rights and health concerns of these “human beings”? Why is equal protection for embryos placed ahead of equal protection of women? What will the HHS do with the supernumerary embryos/human beings of in vitro fertilization? How will it resolve the contradiction between a “human being in utero” and conception which does not occur in utero. What does “natural birth” mean anyway? Does it preclude Caesarean delivery? This is the kind of chaos that results when simple solutions are applied to complex problems.