No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion? A New Bill With An Old Face

Amie Newman

Rep. Chris Smith's bill may have the "forcible rape" language removed but the truth is he still wants millions of women to go without access to safe, legal abortion care: from women serving in the military to women who purchase their own private insurance coverage.

The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (or H.R. 3), introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and whole-heartedly pushed by Speaker Boehner, is a huge leap in a long journey for increased restrictions on abortion access for women in the United States. Though there is already a federal prohibition on taxpayer funding for abortion care through the 35 year-old Hyde Amendment, except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, this bill, of course, goes much further. Jessica Arons, writing on Rewire, calls it a “radical abortion ban.” It’s a ban on all women’s access to abortion care.

In addition to the bill’s ban on abortion coverage, it imposes over-reaching tax penalties upon Americans and small businesses whose health plans cover abortion care for its female employees. This bill would ensure that millions of women are permanently prevented from accessing abortion care: from lower income women using Medicaid as their insurance coverage, to women with private insurance coverage who would be penalized for needing or wanting abortion coverage, to businesses offering insurance coverage with abortion care, to federal employees who are prohibited from having abortions covered in their insurance plans, to women (and their dependents) who serve bravely in our military (and male soldiers’ dependents) and have no access to insurance coverage if they are in need of an abortion, to Native American and Pacific Islander women who seek services from Indian Health Services. And, up until this morning, the bill also sought to redefine the definition of rape, for the purposes of Medicaid coverage of abortions for women, as “forcible” in nature only. Though Rep. Chris Smith has agreed to remove the word “forcible” in the bill’s language, the rest of the bill remains as intrusive as ever, when it comes to the personal and private medical decisions women, their families and providers make together.

Make no mistake. This is an old debate with a new face and some new body parts to boot. This back and forth over the Hyde Amendment is, on the surface, why Rep. Chris Smith has introduced the bill – to codify the amendment into permanent law. But the truth of it is much deeper. Smith – as his counterpart from many years ago, Rep. Henry Hyde –  is looking to stop as many women from accessing legal abortion as possible.

Shortly after the Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, with only an exception if a woman’s health or life was endangered by the pregnancy, a Federal District Judge ruled it unconstitutional and issued an injunction, preventing it from being implemented. When the appropriations bill it was attached to came up for renewal the next year – in 1977 – anti-choice policymakers now wanted a full and complete abortion ban so that even if a woman was going to die as a result of continuing the pregnancy, legislators still wanted a law that refused her the abortion coverage. In the Senate, this incited a debate among pro-choice legislators. These legislators wanted to see some parameters placed on this across-the-board prohibition on Medicaid coverage of abortion care.

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Pro-choice legislators proposed an exception for “medically necessary abortions” which then prompted a months-long hold-up of passage of the appropriations bill while anti-legal abortion legislators dug their heels in, again fighting for absolutely no exceptions to the policy: as Archbishop Olmstead ruled just weeks ago (in the case of an Arizona woman provided a life-saving abortion against the wishes of Olmstead and the Roman Catholic Diocese) regardless of whether a pregnant woman would die without an abortion, society should bar her and her family (in consult with a health care provider) from choosing to save her own life if it means ending the potential life of the fetus growing inside her body.

According to the Guttmacher Institute,

…public funding of abortion was hotly debated and threatened to shut the government down more than once in the 1970s. Annual debates were intense and protracted, with dozens of votes and innumerable hours spent arguing over the respective merits or demerits of the words “serious” versus “severe,” “permanent” versus “long-lasting,” “forced rape” versus “rape.”

In this time period, just as Henry Hyde, architect of the Hyde Amendment had done just a year earlier when he made crystal clear his underlying anti-choice intentions by saying, ““I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the HEW Medicaid bill. A life is a life,” other policymakers stepped up to make clear their own disgust for women’s decision-making power. As Marlene Fried wrote in her article, Hyde Amendment: Opening Wedge to Abolish Abortion,

During the debate, many members of Congress revealed their contempt for and mistrust of women, and especially poor women. For example, in opposition to a health exception, one House member said, “We don’t want a woman who wakes up with a hangnail to be able to get an abortion.”9 In response to the effort to include rape as an exception, Representative Silvo Conte from Massachusetts pushed for the language of “forced rape,” arguing that without the stipulation, “any woman who wants an abortion under Medicaid could go in and say, ‘I’m raped,’ and there could be a lot of perjury.”10 Throughout this period there were no hearings, no witnesses called, no medical testimony, and virtually no factual evidence cited in the debate.

Rep. Conte had pushed for the language of “forced rape” just as Rep. Smith has tried to do 34 years later; and clearly for similar reasoning. There is a false notion set into motion by the male policy makers of years ago that women who become pregnant and seek an abortion (and, to be clear, most are doing so with the support of a male partner – you know, the male partner who helped get them pregnant?) are perpetrating a fraudulent act simply by needing the funds to access the abortion. That they, in fact, must justify their actions prior to the abortion in order to access care, funded by their own taxes. But in the situations under which Medicaid funds abortion care for women, women and their partners are generally facing a dire situation in which it is not unfair to ask the government to cover ones’ abortion care – from taxes women themselves have paid for Medicaid coverage.

Arons writes of this new bill,

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.

But even penile implants, in the case of erectile dysfunction, may be covered by another federal government insurance program, Medicare, when there are extenuating psychological circumstances or not. How do we expalin the obsession with abortion care, then? And our legislators insistence that, under no circumstances, can a woman’s health be taken into consideration when seeking abortion coverage?

H.R. 3 is an attack on women’s health and rights and our ability to make decisions free from governmental intrusion, with our without the “forcible rape” language in the bill. There is no room for nuance here. The Hyde Amendment was originally crafted by a man who was opposed to abortion access in any and all circumstances but who “used” the vulnerability of lower income women and women who rely upon federal funding for insurance coverage in other scenarios to chip away at safe, legal abortion care. The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” does the same thing – only now it includes all women. 

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”