health policy

I’ve spent most of the last few weeks at work on the phone, trying to scheduling meetings on Capitol Hill but mostly getting transferred from voicemail to voicemail. An awful lot of Congressional staffers are away from their desks, all the time. I have this vision of them wandering the Halls of Power, like zombies in a a 1950s scifi flick, searching for the Mother Ship.

Big news today: the leaked HHS proposal that seeks to redefine “abortion” to include contraception. (Ummm… Griswold v. Connecticut, anyone?) The so-called “conscience” clauses grant financial (and possibly legal) immunity to those who deny services based on religious beliefs. What I can’t seem to find is the HHS definition of contraception. Is this just Plan B, which prevents implantation of a fertilized embryo? Or shall we include barrier contraception, which prevents fertilization? What about hormonal contraception, which prevents ovulation itself? (Apologies if I got any of this wrong. I went to a school district that had abstinence-only sex ed, and despite passing both Human Development and Endocrinology/Reproduction in med school, never had a lecture about pregnancy.) If women and men don’t have access to basic contraception, and education about its use, abortion rates (“real” abortion, that is) will just climb.

What I find especially interesting (disturbing?) is that the proposal cites a NEJM study that found that 86% of physicians feel they should present all available options to a patient (and 71% would refer the patient to another physician in the case of religious/moral conflict), yet promptly rejects that overwhelming professional opinion in favor of a 2001 Zogby poll that found that 49% of respondents believed “abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter.” Dunno how the Zogby people feel about contraception, but given that 40% of American women use hormonal birth control, I think I can guess.

As a future physician, I’m aware that my personal beliefs may, at times, conflict with those of my hypothetical patients. But, like 86% of physicians, I think that patient need is superior to provider religion. Hey, HHS? What’s your definition of paternalism?

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