The Bush administration's proposed opt-out rule for health-care workers lacks respect for reproductive-health rights.

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The Bush administration’s proposed opt-out rule for health-care workers is unnecessary and misses a critical element: respect for abortion rights.

More than 584,000 hospitals, doctors offices, clinics and other health-care entities could lose federal funding if they do not accommodate employees who deny care they deem morally objectionable.

The proposed regulation no longer includes an explicit definition of abortion as anything that interferes with a fertilized egg after conception. But the White House’s assault on women’s health-care rights remains.

For starters, the broad wording in the rule changes can be interpreted to extend to oral contraceptives and emergency contraception. Such a broad interpretation would jeopardize funding for Medicaid and Title X, both of which provide family-planning services.

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Moreover, the changes are not necessary. Federal law already allows doctors, hospitals and HMOs to refuse to provide certain services or make abortion referrals. The administration isn’t solving a problem as much as it is taking an 11th-hour stand against choice.

Vocal objections to the rule by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, have been ignored. Congress should redouble its efforts.

A 30-day comment period prevents the changes from going into effect immediately.

Pressure should be brought to bear on Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Leavitt has proved to be open to reason — he dropped previous controversial language on abortion. There is more he should do.

The proposed changes must include explicit assurances they will not be used to block access to birth control and family planning. Otherwise, there is no choice but to see the rules as an attack on women’s reproductive-health rights.

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