House Republicans are preparing to push through restrictions on federal financing of abortions far more extreme than previously proposed at the federal level. Lawmakers who otherwise rail against big government have made it one of their highest priorities to take the decision about a legal medical procedure out of the hands of individuals and turn it over to the government.
Times Topic: Abortion
Editorial: The Two Abortion Wars: State Battles Over Roe v. Wade (January 30, 2011)
Their primary bill —the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” — is so broad that it could block insurance coverage for abortions for countless American women.
The anti-abortion forces almost derailed health care reform last year over whether people could buy policies that cover abortion on new insurance exchanges. The compromise embedded in the reform law sets up a hugely complicated plan to segregate an individual’s premium payments from the government subsidies. It is so burdensome that it seems likely to discourage insurers from offering any abortion coverage at all on the exchanges.
But anti-abortion lawmakers are not satisfied. The new bill, introduced by Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, would bar outright the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new exchanges.
The tax credits that are encouraging small businesses to provide insurance for their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortions. People with their own policies who have enough expenses to claim an income tax deduction could not deduct either the premiums for policies that cover abortion or the cost of an abortion. People who use tax-preferred savings accounts to pay medical costs could not use the money to pay for an abortion without paying taxes on it.
The only tax subsidy left untouched is the exclusion that allows workers whose premiums are subsidized by their employers to avoid paying taxes on the value of the subsidy. Many, if not most, employer-sponsored insurance plans cover abortions. There would have been a huge political battle if workers were suddenly told they had to pay taxes on the benefit or change their policies.
The Smith bill also would take certain restrictions on federal financing for abortions that now must be renewed every year and make them permanent. It would allow federal financing of abortions in cases of “forcible” rape but not statutory or coerced rape, and in cases where a woman is in danger of death from her pregnancy but not of other serious health damage. It would free states from having to provide abortions in such emergency cases.
A separate Republican bill would deny federal funds for family planning services to any organization that provides abortions. It is aimed primarily at Planned Parenthood’s hundreds of health centers, which also provide many other valuable services. No federal money is used for the abortions. This is a reckless effort to cripple an irreplaceable organization out of pure politics.
The House GOP's Plan to Redefine Rape
— Flickr/Steve Rhodes (Creative Commons).
Drugged, raped, and pregnant? Too bad. Republicans are pushing to limit rape and incest cases eligible for government abortion funding.
— By Nick Baumann
Fri Jan. 28, 2011 3:00 AM PST
Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.
With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)
Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old's parents wouldn't be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.
There used to be a quasi-truce between the pro- and anti-abortion rights forces on the issue of federal funding for abortion. Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions.
"This bill takes us backwards to a time when just saying no wasn't enough to qualify as rape."
"This bill takes us back to a time when just saying 'no' wasn't enough to qualify as rape," says Steph Sterling, a lawyer and senior adviser to the National Women's Law Center. Laurie Levenson, a former assistant US attorney and expert on criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, notes that the new bill's authors are "using language that's not particularly clear, and some people are going to lose protection." Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes. "There are a lot of aspects of rape that are not included," Levenson says.
As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.
The bill hasn't been carefully constructed, Levenson notes. The term "forcible rape" is not defined in the federal criminal code, and the bill's authors don't offer their own definition. In some states, there is no legal definition of "forcible rape," making it unclear whether any abortions would be covered by the rape exemption in those jurisdictions.
The main abortion-rights groups despise the Smith bill as a whole, but they are particularly outraged by its rape provisions. Tait Sye, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, calls the proposed changes "unacceptable." Donna Crane, the policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says that making the "already narrow exceptions for public funding of abortion care for rape and incest survivors even more restrictive" is "unbelievably cruel and heartless."
"This bill goes far beyond current law," says Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a co-chair of the congressional pro-choice caucus. The "re-definition" of the rape exception "is only one element" of an "extreme" bill, she adds, citing other provisions in the law that pro-abortion rights groups believe would lead to the end of private health insurance coverage for abortion.
"Somebody needs to look closely at this," Levenson says. "This is a bill that could have a dramatic effect on women, and language is important. It sure sounds like somebody didn't want [the exception to cover] all the different types of rape that are recognized under the law."
Can you sign the petition asking Congress to denounce the Smith bill to redefine rape? Click here:
http://pol.moveon.org/smithbill/?id=259 ... K5N0ex&t=5
Even a seemingly more benign section such as:
is very misinformed. If a child has been incestuously abused all her life and the 'family values' force her to keep quiet, why is there now a switch that empowers her to say no at 18? There are many accounts of women being abused into their 20's before they had gained sufficient independence to stop it.As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.
This whole bill smacks of good old fashioned misogyny.
Overall, this bill is deeply disturbing
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