The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has been working to restrict not just abortions, but also women’s access to family planning services, introducing one bill after another. Meanwhile unemployment remains near 10%, the deficit continues, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, the middle east continues to explode in protests against long-time dictators. What is going on?
The first attack came with the vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (HR 3) which has no chance of becoming law. That would have affected everyone, but women have already benefited from many of the act’s provisions, including free preventive care being required in all health insurance plans making mammograms and PAP smears as well as annual check-ups more accessible. Provisions against rescission when one gets sick also affect women strongly, since breast and uterine cancer diagnoses could trigger the process. And when a child is born sick, insurers can no longer refuse to cover that child due to a pre-existing condition, or refuse to pay for extended hospital care.
But that was just the beginning.
There is already a law that government money cannot be used for abortion. The exceptions have consistently been cases of incest, rape, and saving the life and health of the mother. In a new bill, this is extended to include indirect costs to the government. For example, the cost of an abortion or even of an insurance policy that covers abortions would not be tax-deductible as a medical cost. The argument is that since the deduction is taken from possible government revenue, it is the same as the government actually funding abortion services, even though very few people ever use this provision in their policy or know it is there. It generally comes up when a woman’s life is threatened and an abortion is needed. Such circumstances might include a fetus growing outside the uterus, a partial miscarriage that is causing hemorrhaging, a medical condition that can be worsened by pregnancy, a fetus with the brain growing outside the skull. These are medical emergencies, and treating them should be covered by insurance policies.
Perhaps the greatest outrage came from changing the exception for rape to “forcible rape.” Thus, a child who becomes pregnant through statutory rape would not be eligible for an abortion, nor would a woman who is threatened or coerced into having sex against her will. The word “forcible” has been dropped because of the public outcry. Yet the rest of the bill is just as outrageously restricting. We might ask whether the forcible rape provision was put into the bill to distract from the other provisions.
Now the House has voted to stop federal family planning funding to Planned Parenthood, perhaps the largest provider of family planning services as well as basic women’s health care such as cervical cancer screenings in the country. In some low-service areas, it is the only provider of such services. Planned Parenthood must, and does keep federal monies separate from anything to do with its abortion services.
This is part of another indirect funding provision, saying that any medical facility that provides abortion services cannot receive federal funding for other services or research. If this were to become law, it would essentially make abortions unavailable in the safest medical facilities. Whatever your feelings about abortion, it is a legal medical procedure, and hospitals and clinics that provide abortions are providing a legal service. Doctors have the right to perform legal medical procedures, and women have the right to access abortion services.
The states have also been busy attacking abortion. South Dakota perhaps had the most radical proposal with its bill that would make murdering an abortion doctor justifiable homicide. This has been tabled, and will not go further to become law. In Georgia, there is a proposal that all miscarriages must be reported and investigated. There are ballot proposals in several states to make abortion illegal; in Colorado for example, a proposal would redefine the time when a person is born to some fetal stage. Many states have already made it illegal for the exchanges to be set up under ACA to cover abortions.
Jobs? The economy? War? The middle east?
Apparently, the biggest problem facing this country is abortion.
I get my news from the New York Times, C-Span, Congress Matters, and Daily Kos. I also receive women’s health news from The Partnership for Women and Families, the Women’s Law Center, and several pro-choice organizations.
Today in Congress, there was an intense exchange between Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Jackie Speiers. You can watch it at Daily Kos.