The US House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that will allow health care providers, including hospitals and health plans, to refuse to perform abortions, offer abortion training, cover abortions or provide medically accurate information about abortions and still receive federal funding. HR 4691, also known as the “Abortion Nondiscrimination Act,” which was partly drafted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has the potential to severely limit access to abortion, abortion referral, and information about abortion for women across the country. If this bill were to pass the Senate and become federal law, it would trump many state laws requiring state-certified or licensed health care providers and state Medicaid programs receiving taxpayer money to provide abortion services and referrals, according to the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Vague wording in the bill could also limit women’s access to emergency contraception, which could be defined as an abortifacient by providers, according to NOW. It could also block poor women’s access to abortion services, even in emergencies. Under current law, Medicaid recipients are entitled to abortion coverage in the case of rape, incest or health risks.
The legislation, which Reuters reports is not expected to reach the Senate this year, has the support of the Bush administration, which stated that “hospitals and health care professionals should not be forced to perform or participate in abortions,” according to the Associated Press. It is opposed by pro-choice groups such as the Feminist Majority, NOW, the National Abortion Rights and Action League (NARAL), and Planned Parenthood because women should not be refused comprehensive health care.