Even though the 113th Congress was the least productive in modern history, it did manage to do some work to proactively fight for reproductive rights.
A new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights finds that while the 113th Congress saw no shortage of anti-choice legislation, it also marked the beginning of a surge of pro-choice activism from lawmakers who normally take a more defensive posture on reproductive freedom.
Members of Congress introduced bills to overturn onerous state-level abortion restrictions; to give Peace Corps volunteers the same basic abortion coverage that other federal employees have in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment; to give members of the military equal access to contraceptive benefits; to give lawfully present immigrants the same access to affordable health care as other taxpayers; to protect women’s access to contraception in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision; and to fund comprehensive family planning abroad, including abortion, by repealing the Helms Amendment.
Reproductive rights advocates also took to the Hill to push for ending the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion care and disproportionately affects women of color and poor women.
Congress hasn’t passed a law actively protecting abortion rights since 1994, when the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act responded to widespread anti-choice violence by outlawing violence or obstruction at reproductive health clinics.
Abortion rights were in crisis in the 1990s due to the threat of clinic violence, the report’s authors said, and they are in crisis again today with the hundreds of medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion passed at the state level in the past few years.
This sense of crisis seems to be motivating pro-choice members of Congress to do more than just try to stop the latest anti-choice attack on Roe v. Wade.
Unlike the FACE Act, however, almost none of the pro-choice measures introduced in the last Congress actually passed the Republican-dominated House or the filibuster-blockaded Senate—except the Peace Corps abortion parity rule change, which finally made it through in the new spending bill.
But that change, while hailed as a victory by reproductive rights advocates, was a relatively small one. It only gave Peace Corps volunteers the same very limited abortion coverage that all other federal employees already have.
Meanwhile, anti-choice members of Congress continued to push—and will continue to push in the 114th Congress—measures like a national 20-week abortion ban or restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion.
Anti-choice legislators will also benefit from the status quo on issues like the Hyde Amendment or the ban on Washington, D.C. funding abortion coverage through Medicaid. Those provisions aren’t permanent law, but they are habitually renewed every year, and failing to do so is still seen as a political non-starter.
Still, according to the report, pro-choice advocates seem encouraged by the pushback against anti-choice forces in Congress, and expect that trend to continue in 2015 and beyond.