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

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.

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.