News Abortion

Catholic Bishops’ Allies Dominate Hearing on Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill

Adele M. Stan

The newest version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would place tax penalties on women who seek abortion, and permanently forbid the District of Columbia from helping poor women pay for abortions.

For the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it was a good day in the U.S. House of Representatives, when the all-male Subcommittee on the Constitution gave the bishops’ current top lobbyist and former anti-choice spokesperson the chance to express their support on Thursday for a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would, among other obstructionist measures, single out for tax penalties women who exercised their Constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

Because Republicans have a majority in the House, Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ), was able to use his prerogative to choose two witnesses while the Democrats were left with one. Presenting testimony in favor of HR 7, dubbed the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, were Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’S Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, and Helen M. Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University, and former spokesperson for the same USCCB secretariat.

Susan Wood, associate professor of health policy at George Washington University, testified in opposition to the bill. Wood is a former official of the Federal Drug Administration who resigned in protest in 2005 over what she saw as political interference in the approval process for the emergency contraception drug Plan B One-Step.

Forbidden to testify, despite the request of ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in the House. Because HR 7 would permanently bar the district from using revenue collected through local, not federal, taxes to fund abortions for poor women (an option that remains open to the states), Norton had asked to address the committee for five minutes. Instead, she was left to sit in the audience while the men on the committee argued over whether House rules permit her testimony.

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Asked to cite a rule that would prohibit her testimony, Franks and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) dredged up a citation that prohibits House members who are not members of the committee from asking questions of witnesses—a privilege Norton did not seek.

“There is no rule—there is no rule of the House, no rule of the committee” that would have prohibited Norton’s testimony, Nadler told Rewire after the hearing. In fact, he said, that very committee has, in the past, conducted hearings in which the witnesses were all members of Congress who did not sit on the committee.

HR 7 is a revamped version of a bill first introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in 2011 as a kind of payback for the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without the Stupak amendment, which would have prevented the use of the federal health-care subsidy for any insurance plan that included coverage for abortion. (That initial version, then known as HR 3, is best remembered for its attempt to redefine rape but, like its successor, it contained many other provisions that would roll back women’s rights.)

While Republicans on the committee sought to paint the bill as simply making permanent the existing prohibition of federal spending on abortion via the Hyde Amendment and similar measures, the legislation goes much further, and appears to be designed to place a burden on the private insurance industry with regard to health-care policies that cover abortion, in an effort to discourage companies from offering such policies.

Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, of which the Constitution Subcommittee is a part, offered a paean to the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion in appropriations by the Health and Human Services Committee.

“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Hyde Amendment has led to as many as 675,000 fewer abortions each year,” Goodlatte said. “Let that sink in for a few precious moments. The policy we are discussing today has likely given America the gift of millions more children and, consequently, millions more mothers, millions more fathers, millions more lifetimes, and trillions more loving gestures and other human gifts in all their diverse forms. What a stunningly wondrous legacy.”

In fact, the Hyde Amendment often leads poor women to have their abortions later in their pregnancies than they would have chosen, since it takes them a while to accumulate the funds needed, thus increasing the cost to them. After Susan Wood made the point in her testimony that these later abortions can cost as much as a month’s rent or more, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked her to explain, quipping that he needed to understand whether she was talking about a woman needing to have an abortion every month.

The current version of the Smith bill would also prohibit women from using the pre-tax dollars in their health savings accounts (HSAs) to cover the cost of an abortion, and revives the Stupak Amendment’s denial of an ACA subsidy for the purchase of any plan that covers abortion.

In her testimony, Susan Wood explained it this way:

Adding to the restrictions already in place in the ACA, further changing the tax credits for individuals and for small employers providing health care coverage could lead to significant changes in the health insurance coverage that women have had, potentially creating a “tipping point” in the nature of health insurance whereby women lose abortion coverage. It is the nature of health insurance that insurers may no longer provide plans that include coverage which would come with burdensome regulatory requirements such as proposed in H.R. 7. Since approximately 60 percent of women of reproductive age, or 37 million women, get their health coverage through private insurance, this legislation could have a profound effect.

Richard Doerflinger, the bishops’ lobbyist, said in his written testimony that he hoped that Wood’s prediction of a “tipping point” proved correct; that was the point of the legislation.

“As the Supreme Court noted approvingly three decades ago,” said Doerflinger, “the purpose of a federal funding ban is precisely to use the government’s funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) challenged Helen Alvaré, who asserted that poor women largely oppose abortion, to address polling that most anti-choice women also support the death penalty, which is at odds with Catholic doctrine. Alvaré replied that she personally opposed the death penalty.

Cohen also asked Alvaré how the bill’s burden on the District of Columbia squared with the GOP’s allowance, during the government shutdown, that the district could spend its own local tax revenues to continue government services.

“I’m not actually political on these questions,” Alvaré replied. “I try to take a principled or a legal or an empirical view.”

Cohen then addressed the USCCB’s Doeflinger, asking him how hard he is working to push for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, in light of Pope Francis’ comments on income inequality and his comments, made to a Jesuit publication, that prelates should be less obsessed with railing against abortion.

“We are very much in favor of the War on Poverty,” Doeflinger said, after listing a number of church efforts on behalf of poor people, “but we also insist—and so does Pope Francis—that that War on Poverty must never become a war on the children of the poor. Pope Francis has said it is not progressive to try to solve our problems by eliminating a human life.”

After the hearing concluded, Rewire caught up with Trent Franks, the subcommittee chairman, to ask him why he chose as his two witnesses people who were affiliated with the political arm of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We chose those witnesses because of their knowledge on the issue,” Franks said. “You know, both the Democrats and the Republicans choose different witnesses, and certainly their position on the issues is a central consideration.”

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

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“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights.