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The Associated Press, December 20, 2008

New federal rule risks Plan B law

New federal regulations, set to take effect on Jan. 18, could override Connecticut's law requiring all hospitals to offer rape victims emergency contraception, according to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal said he plans to fight the federal rule, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It reinforces protections for health care workers and institutions that refuse to provide certain services, such as abortions, for personal reasons.

"We went through a very lengthy, painstaking, contentious process to reach our statute in Connecticut which has worked well for everyone," Blumenthal told the Hartford Courant in Saturday's edition.

He said President George W. Bush's administration's new regulation "threatens to blow apart that very significant balance of interests and compromise."

Connecticut's Roman Catholic church, which runs four of the state's 30 hospitals, fought the legislation for two years, arguing that lawmakers were forcing medical personnel to violate their religious beliefs and perform chemical abortions by providing emergency contraception, sold as Plan B, to women who are ovulating.

The Catholic bishops were considering legal action, claiming the new law infringes on their state and federal constitutional rights.

But days before the law took effect on Oct. 1, 2007, the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut and leaders of the Catholic hospitals said in a joint statement that "since the teaching authority of the church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work," the hospitals would be allowed to provide Plan B to rape victims without first requiring ovulation tests.

"To administer Plan B without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act," the statement reads.

Connecticut's law allows a hospital to conduct a pregnancy test before prescribing Plan B and to have a third party administer the drug. Yet it prevents a hospital from using any other test, such as an ovulation test, to determine whether to provide the drug.

Plan B is a high dose of a drug found in many regular birth-control pills. Its maker, Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., got approval in 2006 to sell the drug over-the-counter.

Plan B can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The drug works by stopping ovulation and has no effect on an existing pregnancy.

Blumenthal said he can challenge the new federal rule by issuing a letter, petition or a court challenge claiming it violates both the state's and patients' rights. A dozen other state attorneys general have already raised objections, he said.

President-elect Barack Obama could reverse the regulation. Blumenthal said that process could take six to 12 months.

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