Politics Reproductive Rights

House Expected to Vote on Major Abortion Restriction

Today the House is expected to vote on H.R. 7, known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a bill that would attempt to block all women from accessing health insurance that covers abortion care. It is a sweeping piece of legislation that touches on a number of anti-abortion policies.

H.R. 7 would make permanent the federal abortion funding restrictions, known as the Hyde Amendment, which Congress typically includes in the annual appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion coverage to the over 28 million women who receive their health insurance through federal programs, such as federal employees, Native Americans, veterans, federal prisoners, and the largest targeted group of reproductive age, low-income individuals on Medicaid.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 1 in 6 women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid. Of these women, 60 percent live in a state that forbids Medicaid coverage of abortion, meaning they have to pay an average of over $350 out of pocket to access an abortion. The substantial burden forces one in four poor women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy to carry to term.

H.R. 7 would also codify the Helms Amendment, which bans any international organization from using United States’ funds to provide abortion as a “method of family planning,” and has been interpreted to prevent funding even in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. Under H.R. 7, the United States, the largest aid donor in the world, would permanently deny survivors of war rape access to abortion.

The routine use of rape as a tool of war has been documented in conflicts around the world, from South Sudan to Syria to Nigeria, and constitutes a form of torture. According to the Global Justice Center, 40,000 women and girls are raped in conflict each year, but many more have suffered during specific conflicts. At least 50 percent of survivors are under the age of 18, but in some areas, up to 80 percent of those targeted are children, and many are very young adolescents. The risk of maternal death for girls aged 15 years and younger is twice that of an adult, and these young victims have higher rates of injury, infection or disease related to pregnancy and childbirth. Therefore, for girls raped in conflict, the ability to access abortion has life or death consequences.

Another large group of women who would have their rights to abortion covered health insurance restricted are women who purchase health insurance through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under H.R. 7, women who purchased insurance that covered abortion care would not be eligible for tax subsidies. 25 states have already enacted laws that forbid the selling of abortion care in the ACA marketplace. In addition, small businesses that choose health insurance plans that cover abortion would be denied the insurance-related tax credits that apply to small businesses.

Advocates of abortion access fear that eliminating tax subsidies and implementing strict regulations will push insurance companies to stop covering abortion for all women, as they are unlikely to offer a product that so many are effectively barred from purchasing.

H.R. 7 stands in direct opposition to the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act that was introduced in Congress in 2015. The EACH Woman Act would restore abortion insurance coverage to all women affected by the Hyde Amendment, as well as prohibit federal, state and local governments from passing laws that restrict private health insurance companies from offering abortion care, as has been done in 25 states.

President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is one of the staunchest opponents of the ACA and abortion and contraception access, opposing private health insurance coverage for abortion, voting to defund Planned Parenthood and co-sponsoring legislation to outlaw abortion, stem cell research, some forms on contraception and in vitro fertilization.

When asked in 2012 what he would say to low-income women who couldn’t afford birth control if it wasn’t covered by their health insurance, he replied, “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one. The fact of the matter is, this is a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

The House has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, defund Planned Parenthood, and introduce other anti-abortion measures. Feminist Majority Foundation has a campaign to support the Each Woman Act.

Media Resources: Mother Jones 1/23/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 9/26/16, 8/12/16, 9/28/16, 1/6/17, 1/19/17; Guttmacher Institute 4/9/16;

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