News Law and Policy

House Passes H.R. 358, the “Let Women Die” Act of 2011

Jodi Jacobson

Today the GOP-led House of Representatives, with the blessings and encouragement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and extremist religious groups such as the Family Research Council, as well as 15 Democrats, passed a bill that would, among other things, allow doctors and hospitals to "exercise their conscience" by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die.

Correction: We have corrected an error in the name of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; we inaccurately identified the group as the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.  We also corrected the link in the vote count to access the final tally which is correctly cited in the text of the article. An earlier link was to the preliminary count.

Today the GOP-led House of Representatives, with the blessings and encouragement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and extremist religious groups such as the Family Research Council, passed a bill in a vote of 251 to 172 that would, among other things, allow doctors and hospitals to “exercise their conscience” by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die.

Yes. Die.

This is what the Republicans called the “Protect Life Act.”  And no, I am not kidding.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it what it is… “a savage assault on women’s health.”

Fifteen Democrats voted for what women’s groups are calling the “Let Women Die” Act.  These include anti-choice Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Jerry Costello (IL), Mark Critz (PA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Joe Donnelly (IN), Tim Holden (PA), Dan Lipinski (IL), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre (NC), Nick Rahall (WVA), Mike Ross (AR), Collin Petersen (MN), and Heath Shuler (D-NC).

“Extremists prevailed today in the House of Representatives,” said Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families, “proving again that they are badly out-of-touch with the majority of Americans who want lawmakers to focus on economic recovery, jobs and promoting, rather than restricting, affordable, quality health care ­– not [on] an extreme, anti-woman agenda.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called passage of the bill yet another reminder of how playing politics with women’s health and privacy is a priority for Speaker John Boehner.

“Americans are facing real challenges, yet House Speaker John Boehner is ignoring the public’s call for Congress to focus on jobs, “said Keenan. “Instead, he is coming up with new ways to give politicians more control over our personal, private decisions. The House’s attacks on women’s freedom and privacy are out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities.”

The bill, H.R. 358, about which we have written extensively, revives the earlier failed Stupak amendment, which would force health plans to drop comprehensive coverage in state health insurance exchanges, cutting off millions of women from the benefits they receive today and prevent women from paying for health insurance with abortion coverage with their own money.

H.R. 358 contains other provisions revealing complete disregard for women’s health and lives. It permits states to enact sweeping refusal laws that would allow health plans to refuse to cover women’s preventive services, including birth control, without cost-sharing — undoing a new protection under health reform supported by 66 percent of Americans.  It also codifies and significantly expands an already expansive refusal clause (also known as the Weldon amendment) without any regard for patient rights or protections. Under current law (through the 2004 Weldon amendment), hospitals, health care facilities, and insurance plans can refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.  The Weldon amendment has no protections for patients to ensure they have access to care and information in a timely manner.  H.R. 358 codifies this unfair and discriminatory provision.  H.R. 358 further allows health care entities–hospitals, clinics–to refuse to “participate in” abortion care.  This could mean that a hospital employee with no medical training or role in a patient’s treatment decisions could refuse to process bills, handle medical records, or even set up an examination room for a patient seeking abortion care.

And finally, it overrides protections for pregnant women under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.  EMTALA was enacted in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay, including women in active labor. Under EMTALA, hospitals must stabilize a pregnant patient who, for example, is facing an emergency obstetric condition or life-threatening pregnancy and either treat her–including an emergency abortion–or if the hospital or staff objects, to transfer her to another facility that will treat her. 

H.R. 358 overturns decades of precedent guaranteeing people access to lifesaving emergency care, including abortion care and says its ok that a pregnant woman fighting for her life be left to die. 

Read it again.  It is that breathtaking.

As Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) stated during floor debate, had this law been in effect 20 years ago she might not be here, because she was one of those women who needed an emergency abortion to save her life. 

But the real lives of real women don’t seem to be of great concern to the predominantly white male Congress.

“This bill is a collection of dangerous ideas that will undermine women’s health,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  “Most devastating, the bill eliminates protections for patients seeking care in emergency circumstances, and would allow a hospital to deny lifesaving abortion care to a woman, even if a doctor deems it necessary.”

President Obama has said he would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk. “The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 358,” said the statement of policy put out by the White House, “because, as previously stated in the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3, the legislation intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today.”

“America’s women and families are counting on the Senate to reject this measure,” said Ness of the National Partnership, “and, if necessary, for President Obama to make good on his promise to veto it.”

Analysis Politics

Paul Ryan Uses Falsehoods Behind Texas HB 2 to Push Yet Another Abortion Restriction

Ally Boguhn

In a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Paul Ryan agreed with an audience member's baseless sentiment that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics" in its Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

During a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) pushed falsehoods about the anti-abortion provisions at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt being necessary for patient health and safety. Ryan nonsensically then used the decision as a launch point to promote House Republicans’ Conscience Protection Act, which passed in the House Wednesday evening and supposedly shields those who object to abortion from discrimination. The only things Texas’ provisions and the legislation have in common, however, is that they’re all about blocking access to abortion care.

Town hall audience member and executive director of New Jersey Right to Life Marie Tasy claimed during the event Tuesday that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics,” in its landmark ruling against two provisions—the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements—of Texas’ HB 2.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said in response to Tasy’s remarks. “I agree with that.”

But 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.”

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Despite this, Ryan then used the falsehood at the center of HB 2 as a call to action for yet another anti-choice restriction: the Conscience Protection Act. After fielding the question from Tasy about how anti-choice issues could be advanced in Congress in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan pivoted to claim that the government is “forcing people to conduct [abortion] procedures”:

Actually, tomorrow we are bringing a bill that I’ve been working on called the Conscience Protection Act. I’m pro-life. I think you probably know that. And I would like to think we could at least get consensus in this country that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding abortions. That the government shouldn’t be forcing people to conduct procedures, especially health-care workers, against their own conscience.

Our First Amendment is the right of conscience, religious freedom. Yet our own government today, particularly in California, is violating that right and not allowing people to protect their conscience rights, whether they’re Catholic hospitals or doctors or nurses. Tomorrow we’re bringing the Conscience Protection Act to the floor and passing it. It’s Diane Black’s bill. And it is to give those citizens in America who want to protect their conscience rights their ability to defend those rights. That is one thing we’re doing tomorrow to protect the conscience, because I believe we need to cultivate a culture of life. And at the very least, stop the government from violating our conscience rights.

Ryan would go on to make similar remarks the next day while speaking on behalf of the bill on the House floor, though this time he added that the “bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way …. All it does is protect a person’s conscience.” 

As Rewire‘s Christine Grimaldi previously reported, the Conscience Protection Act would codify and expand on the Weldon Amendment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against any health care entity-including physicians, health-care professionals, hospitals, and insurance plans, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The Weldon Amendment currently must be passed each year as part of annual appropriations bills.

Grimaldi noted that the act “would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care.”

Ryan proposed similar conscience protections as part of his recently released health-care plan, though, as Grimaldi wrote, “the Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.”

But those whom Ryan and his colleagues are claiming to defend already have protections that impede access to abortion care, according to critics of the measure.

Ryan, for example, suggested in both his CNN appearance and his House floor speech the next day that California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under “basic health services” violates “religious freedom.” But a June investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights into whether California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment rejected similar complaints by anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Let’s be very clear—right now, current law says that hospitals, insurers, and doctors may refuse to perform an abortion or provide coverage for abortion, which already greatly limits women’s access to legal procedures,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Wednesday, speaking after Ryan on the House floor during remarks before the Conscience Protection Act passed.

“More importantly, when a woman’s health is in danger, providers would not be required to act to protect the health of that mother. This bill would allow them to refuse to … facilitate or make arrangements for abortion if they have a moral objection to it,” continued Schakowsky. “They could also refuse to provide transportation to another hospital if a woman is in distress if that hospital provides abortions.”

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained in a statement following the passage of the legislation in the House that the measure is about blocking access to abortion. “The Conscience Protection Act is dangerous, discriminatory legislation designed to block women’s access to abortion care,” said Ness.

“For example, a hospital could rely on the Conscience Protection Act to turn away a woman in an emergency situation who needs an abortion or refuse to provide a woman information about her treatment options. This legislation is a license for providers to discriminate against women and undermine their access to essential, constitutionally protected health care,” Ness said.

News Law and Policy

GOP Pushes LGBTQ Discrimination on Pulse Shooting Anniversary

Christine Grimaldi

A business or other organization drawing on taxpayer money and acting on those views, for instance, could deny child care, health care, and retirement benefits to an employee with a same-sex spouse without penalty from the federal government.

On the one-month anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, congressional Republicans pushed legislation that would shield individuals and groups that receive federal funds from penalties for discriminating against LGBTQ people.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee Tuesday debated the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Republicans have proposed multiple official and unofficial versions of FADA. All of them share a common purpose: Protect recipients of federal dollars that act on their “religious belief or moral conviction” against same-sex marriage or sex outside of marriage. Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have praised FADA for building on broader Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other so-called religious liberty bills. (The legal website Justia breaks down the similarities and differences between RFRA and FADA.)

A business or other organization drawing on taxpayer money and acting on those views, for instance, could deny child care, health care, and retirement benefits to an employee with a same-sex spouse without penalty from the federal government, Democratic lawmakers opposing the bill said at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Employers could even refuse to provide time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for an ill same-sex spouse.

That possibility troubled Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. “This is not the kind of dignity and respect that the Supreme Court spoke so eloquently of in the decision granting the freedom to marry nationwide last June,” Obergefell told lawmakers.

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If enacted into law, FADA would also empower those with religious objections to be able to turn away LGBTQ people seeking services such as housing or medical care, experts testified before the committee.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking member, fellow Democrats, and 80 civil rights and other groups petitioned Republicans to reschedule the FADA hearing, to no avail. More than 3,000 faith and clergy last year leaders voiced their opposition to FADA, he said.

“To say that this hearing is ill-timed is the understatement of the year,” Cummings said as he opened the hearing. That evening, House Democrats and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus gathered on the capitol steps for a vigil honoring the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-IN) introduced the House’s bill (H.R. 2802), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the identical Senate counterpart (S. 1598). FADA has little to no chance of becoming law this year given President Barack Obama’s increasingly outspoken support for the LGBTQ community, indicating that he would veto any such legislation that somehow managed to advance in the House and Senate. A Mississippi judge recently blocked a similar state law from taking effect.

House Democratic aides provided Rewire with a revised FADA draft that they said Labrador has been circulating since last Friday that goes even further.

Lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing discussed the revised draft, which they said would apply to all businesses—both for-profit and nonprofit. This draft permits discrimination against same-sex and opposite-sex couples except by federal employees acting in the scope of their employment and for-profit federal contractors acting in the scope of a government contract, they added.

David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, the prominent LGBTQ civil rights group, described these exemptions, and others for hospital visitations and medical decisions, as concessions that don’t mask FADA’s underlying discrimination.

“That all being said, the bill has really significant problems that remain,” he said in an interview.

Columbia School of Law professor Katherine Franke underscored that FADA would go beyond permitting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and include unmarried parents and heterosexual couples.

“A broad reading of this bill would create a safe harbor from penalties associated with an enormous range of behavior that is otherwise illegal or prohibited by federal law and regulation,” Franke said in her testimony before the committee.

Under FADA, she said, the federal government could not deny Title X funding to a health-care clinic that provides family planning services only to patients that can furnish a marriage license. Nor could the government deny a Violence Against Women Act grant to a domestic violence shelter that required residents to pledge their opposition to marriage equality or extramarital relations, she added.

Schools that accept federal funds could fire teachers suspected of having premarital sex, the Huffington Post reported. NARAL Pro-Choice America highlighted the “legislation that lets your boss fire you for having premarital sex (yes, really)” in a scathing memo sent to reporters.

“Are you a single mother whose landlord doesn’t believe in sex outside of marriage? Under this law, your landlord could refuse to house you,” the memo said. “Do you work at a company where your boss doesn’t believe in premarital sex? Under this law, if your boss found out about your private life, they could fire you.”