Monday, January 31, 2011

G.O.P. War on Women and Compassion

As of this writing there are 173 co-sponsors in the House of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which was introduced by Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.  For House speaker and committed right-to-lifer John Boehner, this bill is one of the Republican's "highest priorities."  He hailed the introduction of the bill by stating:  “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people and ought to be the law of the land.  But current law – particularly as enforced by this Administration – does not reflect the will of the people."

It is bad enough that for 35 years the Hyde Amendment has continued to prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for abortions -- except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is endangered.  According to The Center for Reproductive Rights, because of the Hyde Amendment, "more than a million women have been denied funds to cover an abortion."  This, of course, has been particularly harmful to women of limited financial means, making it extremely difficult for them to "finance abortion services and severely limit[ing] their right to reproductive health care."

The Hyde Amendment is not permanent, but must be -- and has been -- approved as a rider to the appropriations bill every year.  The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would make some of the Hyde Amendment provisions permanent.  Even worse, the bill would substantially limit the long-standing exemptions for rape and incest.  As a Talking Points Memo report notes, "changing the way rape is classified when it comes to abortion (as well as strictly defining what 'health of the mother' means) have long been goals of the anti-abortion movement."

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones explains that this new bill would drastically rewrite the rules to significantly narrow the meaning of rape and incest for these purposes.  Under the bill's rape exemption, for example, federal assistance would be limited only to instances of "forcible rape," an ambiguous term to say the least.  This could exclude federal funds for abortions for pregnancies stemming from statutory rape, as well as from non-consensual sex when the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, or was of  limited mental capacity, and for many date rapes.  As for the incest exception, the bill would exclude women over 18 years of age.  Even the "health of the mother" exception would be limited to where the woman is at risk for death but not other serious harm.

There are other serious problems with the bill, including a provision which, Baumann notes, pro-abortion rights groups are concerned could lead to the end of private health insurance coverage for abortion.  In a Sunday editorial, "The New Abortion Wars," which strongly condemned the bill, The New York Times explained that the bill "would bar outright the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new [insurance] exchanges."  In addition, the tax credits small businesses would get if they provide insurance to their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortion.

In an earlier post, I referenced a Mother Jones article, The GOP's New Abortion Agenda, that detailed the Republican Party's top goals:  "Enshrine tough restrictions on abortion funding into federal law and defund Planned Parenthood."  (See Back to the Dark Ages.)  It seems that they are well on their way.  As for the latter, as the Times editorial notes, another bill clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood's health centers would deny funds for family planning services to any organization that provides abortion, even though -- as at Planned Parenthood -- no federal funds are used for abortion.  The Times rightly calls this "a reckless effort to cripple an irreplaceable organization out of pure politics."

While mostly a Republican endeavor, it must be pointed out that there are some pro-life Democrats in House too, including Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), a chair of the House pro-life caucus, who is a co-sponsor of Smith's bill.  The question, as always, is whether the rest of the Democrats in Congress and the President will stand up and fight hard for women's reproductive rights.

[Related posts:  Back to the Dark Ages]


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