Public Comment Submission re/ HHS Draft Strategic Plan FY 2018-2022

As a reminder, the HHS Strategic Plan is open for public comment until October 27th. Comments may be submitted through the web site, or via email to HHSPlan@hhs.gov. There was no way I could limit myself to the 1,000 character limit through the web site. Here is my submitted comment. Pick and choose and re-word as is important to you, but please submit your comments by Friday. #HHSFacts #HHSCodes

————————————

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Strategic Plan, FY 2018-2022, is the Trump Administration’s latest effort to undermine women’s reproductive health care, and to insert the religious beliefs of one group of people between all patients and their health care providers.

By stating throughout the Strategic Plan that the goals of HHS are directed to “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception,” HHS undermines the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, which affirmed the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. This plan sets a dangerous precedent and helps pave the way for policies that infringe a woman’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy. HHS is threatening women’s access to abortion care and birth control under the guise of protecting religious freedom. (e.g. Page 4, Line 60; Page 32, Line 829; Page 34, Line 846; Page 45, Line 1142; Page 52, Line 1341)

Further language defining care until “natural death” indicates HHS’ apparent bias against a decision to choose a dignified death via assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. This directly contradicts language in Objective 1.1, and reflected elsewhere in the plan, indicating a focus on “end-of-life care that that incentivize[s] patient and family-centered preferences.” Such a patient-centered approach must accommodate the “moral convictions” of all patients, rather than just those whose convictions conform to a “natural” death dictated by their religious beliefs. (e.g. Page 32, Line 829; Page 34, Line 846; Page 45, Line 1142)

Further goals, iterated in Objective 1.3, of removing “any barriers to, and promot[ing], full participation in the health care workforce by persons and/or organizations with religious beliefs or moral convictions” indicate an unacceptable willingness to compromise a scientifically-proven, medically-accurate standard of care for patients as a potential “barrier”.

Language throughout the plan indicates a preference for and deference to faith-based organizations; however, in no section is it more irresponsible than throughout Objective 2.1. This objective, focused on empowering people to make informed choices for healthier living, calls repeatedly for the involvement of faith-based organizations to impart information that is “culturally competent”, “linguistically appropriate”, and “communicated effectively”, but adjectives describing the information as scientifically-accurate, medically-proven, or evidence-based are nowhere to be found in this section.

The language under Objective 2.1 is particularly egregious in that is does not recognize the historical contributions or acknowledge the continuing importance of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals in empowering people to make informed, healthy choices, instead justifying the emphasis on faith-based organizations by stating that “persons and organizations with religious beliefs or moral convictions and other community organizations…have historically been the primary funders and deliverers of health care and human services in the United States.”

I demand that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services remove all personhood language (“life begins at conception”) from the Strategic Plan and all other policy documents; that any reference to the involvement of faith-based and community organizations stipulates their provision of information that is scientifically-accurate, medically-proven, and evidence-based; and a restriction that the religious beliefs of health care providers and HHS-partnered or funded organizations may not effect a barrier to the health care rights and needs of patients.