Today, the federal Department of Health and Human services published a rule — effective the day before President-elect Obama is inaugurated, just for a little extra fun — that will diminish women’s access to abortion, contraception, and other reproductive health care in federally-funded programs.

This regulation risks interfering with state laws that have sought to make emergency contraception more accessible to women in order to prevent more unintended pregnancies — a goal that should have nearly universal support. This new regulation is part of a spate of last-minute regulations that implement the outgoing administration’s ultraconservative agenda, both with respect to social issues like reproductive health care and many other issues, like the ability of consumers to sue in court when they are harmed by unsafe products.

Many of these new regulations are escaping public attention as the media focus on the transition to the new administration and the numerous overarching problems — like the economy and the war in Iraq — that have been left for the new administration to deal with. But these new regulations create new problems and obstacles for the Obama administration to expend resources to resolve — resources that could be better utilized elsewhere. So the regulation issued yesterday, whose immediate impact will be felt by women who have contact with reproductive health care services that obtain federal funds, will have an impact on the Obama administration’s capacity to achieve the policy agenda it was elected to put into action, and hence on everyone who stood to benefit from those policies — from consumers, to workers, to women seeking equal rights, to people reeling from the economic downturn.

We who have witnessed the damage done by President Bush to our nation’s courts — damage that will take decades to undo and reverse — are not surprised that Bush has taken this last opportunity to advance his agenda. Moreover, these regulations are in keeping with the duplicity of the Bush administration: the regulations are being issued in contravention of a directive issued earlier this year by former Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten to require all new regulations, except in “extraordinary circumstances,” to submit proposed regulations by June 1, 2008. But maybe that was the rule only when they thought another Republican might be elected to the White House.

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