Abortion

Chris Smith Introduces Radical Abortion Ban

Jessica Arons

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) claims his bill would “only” codify, or make permanent, the Hyde Amendment. But it goes far beyond current law, seriously compromise women’s access to reproductive health care, and hamstring government operations.

This week Rewire celebrates the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which is on Saturday, January 22nd, 2011.

No one should be fooled by the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, or H.R. 3, which was introduced today in the House of Representatives. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the main sponsor, claims that his bill would “only” codify, or make permanent, the Hyde Amendment, which is the annual appropriations rider that restricts Medicaid funding for abortion. But it would do much more than that. Rep. Smith’s bill would go far beyond current law, seriously compromise women’s access to reproductive health care, and hamstring government operations.

A hard look at the bill, as it was introduced in August, shows that it would:

  • Impose a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care. Under current law only specific programs have abortion funding restrictions, and those must be reauthorized every year.
  • Enact the rejected Stupak Amendment by denying federal credits or subsidies to private health insurance plans that cover abortion even when the cost of abortion coverage is paid for entirely with private funds. This would have the effect of banning abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges that will be established by 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act allows insurers to offer abortion coverage and accept federal offsets for premiums if enrollees make a separate premium payment for the cost of abortion coverage from private funds and if insurers keep those funds separate from federal premium payments and credits.
  • Impose tax penalties on those who pay for abortion care or coverage by:
    • Denying tax credits to employers or other entities that pay for health plans that cover abortion
    • Denying tax credits to individuals or entities that pay for abortion care
    • Disallowing medical deductions for payments for any health plan that includes abortion coverage or for any medical expenses related to abortion care
    • Treating as income any amounts paid for an abortion from a tax-preferred trust or account, such as a health savings account

None of these restrictions exist under current law.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

  • Forbid any facilities owned or operated by the federal government and any individuals employed by the federal government from providing abortion care. Facilities bans currently apply to the military and the Indian Health Service. But there are no explicit bans on other specific facilities and there is no permanent, blanket prohibition on all federal medical facilities and employees.
  • Deny “home rule” to the District of Columbia by imposing all of the above limitations on the District of Columbia. Congress voted in 2009 to lift abortion funding restrictions on the District of Columbia budget and allow it to spend its own money on abortion care if it so chooses.

Make no mistake: Each of these provisions represents an expansion, not simply a codification, of the abortion funding restrictions that exist in current federal law.

The only exceptions in the bill include instances when:

  • The pregnancy results from an act of rape or incest with a minor
  • The woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself

There are no exceptions to protect a woman’s health in nonlife-threatening situations—for instance, when her pregnancy might cause blindness, might threaten her future fertility, or might worsen a chronic health condition such as heart disease. Nor are there any protections for a woman who is suicidal or in the case of a fetal anomaly, even when the fetus is unlikely to survive.

The bill also would codify the Weldon Amendment, the annual appropriations rider that allows individuals and entities to refuse to perform activities related to abortion care. This provision prohibits “discrimination” by a federal agency or program or any state or local program that receives federal financial assistance against any individual or institutional health care entity that does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

Current law only limits federal funding for abortion in certain government-run or -managed health programs. But the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would impose blanket prohibitions on all forms of direct and indirect funding streams that might potentially touch on the provision of abortion care. Rather than securing the ostensible goal of shielding citizens who object to the use of taxpayer money for abortion—a questionable objective given that taxpayers are not similarly protected in other areas of controversial funding such as the death penalty or war—Rep. Smith’s bill would accomplish the unstated end of making abortion as difficult to obtain as possible without actually criminalizing it.

What’s more, H.R. 3 would redefine the concept of government funding far beyond the current common understanding. It does not simply prohibit the use of federal funds to directly pay for abortion. Instead, it would insert itself into every crevice of government activity and prohibit even private and nonfederal government funds from being spent on any activity related to the provision of abortion any time federal money is involved in funding or subsidizing other, nonabortion-related activities.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of thinking would prohibit roads built with federal funds from passing by abortion clinics, drugs developed by the National Institutes of Health or approved by the Food and Drug Administration from being used at abortion clinics, or medical students with government loans from receiving abortion training—all because such uses could be viewed as “subsidizing” abortion with federal dollars.

Even those who agree with the notion that the government should not fund abortion should be wary of the Smith bill, as it would set a dangerous precedent for government spending in areas well beyond abortion. For instance, if its reasoning were extended, religious institutions and faith-based organizations could not obtain tax-exempt status, receive government vouchers to run schools, or accept government funding to carry out secular activities because such government involvement could be viewed as “subsidizing” religious activities and violating the constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state.

This bill is radical and extreme. It is a far cry from any kind of middle ground or compromise on abortion policy. It would enact the rejected Stupak Amendment that nearly brought down health reform, as well as encroach on areas previously untouched by abortion restrictions, such as our tax code. This bill overreaches in every possible way and would only inflame an already intense and intractable debate. More importantly, it would penalize rather than help taxpayers, impede basic government functions, and discriminate against women who are struggling to do their best in a difficult situation.

Tellingly, the bill number indicates that it is the third-highest priority of the new House majority right after its attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Clearly conservatives are much more interested in dismantling health reform and playing politics with divisive social issues than creating jobs and fixing our broken economy.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

No Need to Block Bathroom Access for Transgender Student, Attorneys Tell Supreme Court

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A transgender student in Virginia sued the local school board, arguing that its policy of mandating that students use bathrooms consistent with their “biological sex” rather than their gender identity was unconstitutional.

Attorneys representing transgender student Gavin Grimm told the U.S. Supreme Court this week that there was no reason to block a lower court order guaranteeing Grimm access to school restrooms that align with his gender identity while Grimm’s lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board proceeds.

Grimm in 2015 sued the school board, arguing that its policy of mandating that students use bathrooms consistent with their “biological sex” rather than their gender identity—thus separating transgender students from their peers—was unconstitutional. Attorneys representing Grimm argued that the policy violates the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

A lower district court ruled the school board’s policy did not violate Grimm’s rights. But the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reversing that decision and sending the case back to the lower court, which then blocked the school district from enforcing its policy while Grimm’s case proceeds.

In response, the school board notified the Fourth Circuit of its intent to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court and requested the appellate court stay its order granting Grimm access to bathrooms aligned with his gender identity—a decision the Fourth Circuit granted in June.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The school board then asked the Roberts Court to issue an emergency stay of the lower court decision blocking its bathroom policy while the Court considers taking Grimm’s case.

Grimm’s attorneys argue there is no basis for the Roberts Court to grant the emergency stay requested by the school board. The board has “utterly failed to demonstrate that it will suffer irreparable harm” if Grimm is allowed to use the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School while the Roberts Court considers stepping into the case at all, according to Grimm’s attorneys.

Attorneys for the school board filed their request with Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles petitions from the Fourth Circuit. Roberts can rule on the school board’s request to block the lower court decision, or he can refer the request to the entire Court to consider.

It is not known when Roberts or the Court will make that choice.

The Gloucester County School Board has argued that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in protecting transgender student rights. Attorneys for the school board said that overreach began in 2012, when an administration agency issued an opinion that said refusing transgender students access to the bathrooms consistent with their gender identity violated Title IX.

The administration expanded that opinion in October 2015 and filed a friend of the court brief on Grimm’s behalf with the Fourth Circuit, arguing it was the administration’s position that the school board’s policy violated federal law.

The administration again expanded that opinion in May this year into a directive stating that should publicly funded schools deny transgender students access to facilities that conform to students’ gender identity, they would be in violation of federal law, subject to lawsuits, and risking their federal funding.

The Fourth Circuit relied heavily on these actions in initially siding with Grimm earlier this year.