Republicans have backed off their effort to redefine rape as "forcible rape," after even some of their own members asked: Is there another kind of rape? But they have not given up their war on women's reproductive rights.
HR 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," introduced Jan. 20 by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., tried to further restrict federally funded abortion coverage (primarily Medicaid) by limiting it only to victims of what the law defined as "forcible rape." This spurred a firestorm of outrage. Even some Republicans were taken aback. One GOP aide said removing the wording "would be a good idea, since last I checked, rape by definition is non-consensual," Politico reported.
Smith announced Jan. 27 that he was dropping the "forcible rape" wording and replacing it with language from the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions except for cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother's life. But the essence of HR 3 remains the same: entrenching and expanding curbs on women's right to make their own reproductive decisions.
The Hyde Amendment is renewable every year and has been renewed annually since it was first passed. The original amendment flatly banned federal funding for any abortions After a wide outcry from women's rights advocates, the exemption for rape, incest or life-threatening circumstances was added in 1977. Now Republicans, feeling empowered by their electoral gains last November, are trying to chip away at those exemptions, add further restrictions on abortion and make those restrictions permanent by adding them to the health reform law.
They retreated on the "forcible rape" redefinition, but they are pressing ahead in other ways.
Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican who is a cosponsor of HR 3, has added new language to his "Protect Life Act," HR 358, amendment to the health reform law, that would allow hospitals or any health care provider to refuse to provide emergency abortion care, even if the woman's life is at risk.
HR 358 is similar to one Pitts cosponsored with Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak during last year's health care debate, that would make it almost impossible for private health insurance to cover abortions.
By adding the new language, Pitts' amendment now also contravenes a 1986 law passed by Congress, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, enacted to ensure public access to emergency care regardless of ability to pay.
Under the 1986 law, a patient with an emergency medical condition who goes to a hospital participating in Medicare must be provided stabilizing treatment regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay. That could include abortion care for pregnant women. The impetus for the law was to halt a practice known as "patient dumping" - hospitals or other health providers dumping onto the streets, or onto public facilities, patients too poor to pay.
Evidently Pitts and his supporters are happy to dump low-income women in crisis pregnancies out onto the streets.
Pitts, a prominent member of the House's anti-choice Pro-Life Caucus, now heads a House subcommittee on health. Speaking at the National Organization for Women annual conference last summer, Lois Herr, who ran against Pitts in 2010, called him the "poster child for what the ultra-right is trying to do to us."
"They don't want to control the rich," she said, but they "want to control almost everything we do with our bodies."
Donna Crane, policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice America and a long-time activist for women's reproductive rights, told talkingpointsmemo she has never seen anti-abortion bill as brazen as Pitts' bill in attacking the requirement for treatment when the health of the mother is at stake. She called the bill "really out there."
Pitts and his supporters claim it's all about protecting health care providers' "conscience."
Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals, sent a letter to Pitts backing his amendment. Catholic bishops are also supporting the measure.
Another bill, the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, HR 217, introduced Jan. 7 by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., would cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics and other health providers that offer abortions. Planned Parenthood, which provides family planning, birth control, and preventive care to millions of women, is specifically targeted in Pence's bill.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Planned Parenthood has also been targeted by a "sex trafficking" video hoax linked to the right-wing extremist group Live Action.
NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW and other advocates for women's reproductive rights are mobilizing to defeat the anti-choice bills. Many emphasize that the GOP measures particularly hurt low-income women who depend on federally funded programs to obtain health care and family planning assistance.
Their view was summed up Erin Mattson, NOW's vice president, at last year's conference: "You cannot talk about women's rights without the right to choose and access safe, legal, affordable abortion."
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