WASHINGTON -- Despite campaigning on a platform of creating jobs and boosting the economy, some of the first pieces of legislation Republicans have taken up in the 112th Congress are measures that would restrict women's access to abortion and family planning services.
H.R. 3 is known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" (even though federal funds already cannot be used to directly pay for an abortion). The legislation, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), has attracted 173 co-sponsors, including several Democrats. The bill would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which restricts Medicaid funding for abortion and has to be approved each year. But it goes even further, creating more worry for women's rights activists.
Smith's legislation would discourage employers from offering any health insurance plans that offer abortion coverage, because if they did, they would lose the tax benefits they would normally incur by offering employees health care. It would also take away medical tax deductions for individuals who use their own money to pay for abortion.
Abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges that are set to be established by 2014 under health care reform would also be prohibited, because H.R. 3 would enact the Stupak Amendment, which denies federal credits to private health insurance plans.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) pointed out that the bill also affects female service members and federal employees. Women serving overseas, for example, would be permanently barred from receiving an abortion at a military hospital, even if they use their own money to pay for the care.
In comments to reporters on Tuesday, Cantor argued that H.R. 3 is consistent with the GOP promise to cut spending.
"This is consistent with our commitment that we are going to take away government funding for abortions," Cantor said. "This is consistent with where most Americans are and consistent with reducing spending."
He would support even a provision that would increase taxes on employer benefits that cover abortion. "The provision that you speak to does have some connect to government funding," he added.
In its first hearing of the 112th Congress, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution debated the constitutionality of this issue. Chairman Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said that they needed to determine whether abortion takes the life of a child, and if so, "those of us sitting here in the chambers of freedom are in the midst of the grateful human genocide in the history of humanity."
Ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the provisions in H.R. 3 a "Republican tax increase." He continued, "It's about government interfering with private health care decisions. It is not about protecting the innocent, it is about creating appalling, even life threatening situations, for women." He also raised the troubling constitutional issue of if tax exemptions are government funding, then will religious institutions still be able to receive them? From his opening statement:
"I am equally surprised to find out that my Republican colleagues think that a tax exemption or credit is a form of government funding. What happened to all the rhetoric about it being 'our money,' or does that only apply in certain circumstances? Will we now have to call every tax exemption or credit a form of government funding for the recipient? I'm sure there will be many businesses, charities, and religious denominations that will be alarmed to find out that they are receiving government subsidies. [...]
Among others that should be horrified are all the churches and synagogues and mosques that will now have to, presumably, give up their tax exemptions, because if tax exemptions are government subsidies, that's a direct establishment of religion. And the logic is inexorable. Either a tax exemption is government funding -- in which case we cannot give tax exemptions to churches and synagogues and mosques -- or it is not, in which case this bill has no claim on anyone.
Nadler then pressed the contradiction with some of the witnesses on the issue, who were unable to reconcile the two points.
Democrats have aggressively been calling out Republicans for not only H.R. 3, but also two other abortion bills high on the GOP priority list. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced H.R. 217, which would deny federal family planning funding under Title X to groups that offer abortion access -- targeted primarily at Planned Parenthood.
Another measure introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), H.R. 358, would allow hospitals to turn away women who need to terminate a pregnancy in order to save their own lives. Federal law currently requires hospitals receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding to provide emergency care to all individuals, regardless of their ability to pay. If they can't provide the necessary care, they must transfer the patient to someone who can. Under Pitts' bill, hospitals would not have to perform abortions or even transfer the pregnant woman.
In a press conference today, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said that these measures show a "heinous disregard for the health and well-being of women in America. It is a tax on all women who want access to a full range of reproductive health care."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) -- who has teamed up with Gillibrand and EMILY's List in a campaign opposing the measures -- added, "And I can tell you that this measure is an unprecedented assault on women's health. It creates reprehensible risks for the health of countless women across the country. It puts them in jeopardy of losing vital health services. It imperils not just them, but their families."
For years, federal funding restrictions on abortion have excluded pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. But H.R. 3's original language changed rape to "forcible rape." After significant public outcry, Republicans agreed to change the language.