In another battle in the GOP’s “War on Women,” the ever-simmering abortion debate caught fire yesterday as an anti-abortion bill passed the House. But experts say the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, and even if it does, President Obama has previously promised to veto it.
Opponents are calling the bill, which passed 221 to 188 on Tuesday, a deceitful and dangerous piece of draconian legislation championed mostly by men. Advocates worry its passage would be especially harmful to low-income women, who have higher unintended pregnancy rates than women in other economic brackets.
Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act aims to ban federal funding for most abortions—but the bill's title is misleading because the Hyde Amendment, which passed Congress in 1976, has stipulated that federal funds cannot be used for abortion coverage for four decades. The amendment is a rider, meaning it's an additional provision that has been attached to appropriations bills ever since 1976; Smith’s bill would make it permanent.
Democrats weren’t amused.
“I was personally involved in crafting the compromise language that ensured this was the case, and I find it reprehensible that you are now trying to create a phony controversy,” wrote Sen. Barbara Boxer in an open letter to House Republicans on The Huffington Post.
The anti-abortion bill's name is just one of its missteps. It actually undermines Section 10104 of Obamacare, which reiterates the Hyde Amendment and outlines that no health care plan is required to cover abortion. If they choose, individual states can pass laws to ban abortion coverage in any exchange.
The bill would prohibit insurance plans under the Affordable Health Care Act from covering abortion, in addition to penalizing small businesses that opt to offer health plans or benefits that include abortion coverage.
“This new effort is an attempt to create restrictions far beyond the scope of the current law, interfering with how women use their own private dollars in their own private insurance for health coverage,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who has introduced the Women's Health Protection Act, aimed at “keeping our politicians out of our health care decisions.”
Most insurance plans now include abortion coverage. However, opponents of the anti-choice bill worried that because insurance plans in the new health care exchanges influence industry standards, the elimination of coverage for the reproductive health benefit would spread throughout the insurance market, leaving women without coverage.
“They would have to pay out-of-pocket. For some low- or moderate-income women, that just makes it impossible, or it could delay when they would get the procedure, which would also increase costs,” said Leila Abolfazli, senior counsel of health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C.
Abortion costs vary by state but run from $300 to thousands of dollars. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008 “poor women had an unintended birth rate nearly six times as high as that of higher-income women.”
The bill also hurts small businesses, which would not be eligible for tax credits if they offered health insurance that included abortion coverage to employees.
Taking away tax credits would discourage them from offering plans that do have abortion coverage, says NWLC. Businesses would be put in a difficult situation of having to decide whether or not to provide comprehensive coverage.
The anti-abortion bill was previously introduced in 2011 and stoked controversy because of language that permitted abortion in cases of “forcible rape.” The new version was revised and makes exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or physical illness.
According to Abolfazli, H.R. 7 is “one piece in a much larger effort to make sure women have no access to [abortion] coverage.”
Last year, Texas passed high-profile legislation that prohibited abortion after 20 weeks and added new restrictions on clinics. As a result, more than a third of the state's abortion clinics shut down.
Recently a Kentucky bill passed that required women to have face-to-face consults with doctors before abortions.
Introduced last November, Chu's pro-choice Women's Health Protection Act seeks to protect a woman's right to determine “whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy by limiting restrictions on the provision of abortion services.” Cosponsored by 98 Democrats, it is being considered by a congressional committee before it possibly is sent to the House or Senate.