Republicans Won’t Stop Talking About Abortion

WASHINGTON - MAY 31: U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) testifies during a hearing before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee May 31, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine the protection of the nation's electric grid from physical and cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Jan. 9, 2014, 2:09 p.m.

The hear­ing on abor­tion fund­ing got emo­tion­al for the 12 male mem­bers of the House Ju­di­ciary Sub­com­mit­tee on the Con­sti­tu­tion and Civil Justice Thursday.

Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ued their fight against abor­tion in con­sid­er­ing the No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act, which would pre­vent wo­men and small busi­nesses from re­ceiv­ing Obama­care tax sub­sidies for health plans that in­clude abor­tion cov­er­age, ex­cept in cases of rape, in­cest, or danger to the moth­er’s life.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the hear­ing be­came a heated de­bate over abor­tion rights, with the con­gress­men and their three wit­nesses philo­soph­iz­ing on is­sues of re­li­gion, wo­men’s rights, the death pen­alty, and em­bryon­ic stem-cell re­search. Mem­bers ten­ded to tread care­fully and some­times awk­wardly, with Re­pub­lic­ans de­clar­ing their op­pos­i­tion to abor­tion over­all, and Demo­crats ar­guing that they were at­tempt­ing to pro­hib­it wo­men from a con­sti­tu­tion­ally gran­ted right.

“50 mil­lion dead chil­dren is enough,” Chair­man Trent Franks, R-Ar­iz., said bluntly in his open­ing state­ment, re­fer­ring to the es­tim­ated num­ber of abor­tions per­formed since the pas­sage of Roe v. Wade.

In fact, fed­er­al fund­ing for abor­tions is already pro­hib­ited un­der the law. If a wo­man elects to have an abor­tion, she is per­son­ally re­spons­ible for the premi­um to cov­er that pro­ced­ure.

“This is a tax in­crease on wo­men who choose to use their own money on abor­tion in cer­tain cir­cum­stances,” said rank­ing mem­ber Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Fed­er­al fund­ing for abor­tion has been out­lawed since the pas­sage of the Hyde Amend­ment in 1976. The amend­ment pro­hib­its fund­ing of abor­tion ser­vices through fed­er­ally sponsored Medi­caid cov­er­age.

The Af­ford­able Care Act com­plic­ates this is­sue be­cause it is the first time fed­er­al fund­ing is go­ing to­ward private in­sur­ance, in the form of tax cred­its for low-in­come con­sumers. As a res­ult, the law re­quires abor­tion ser­vices be se­greg­ated from sub­sid­ized cov­er­age.

The ACA neither re­quires nor pro­hib­its ex­change plans from in­clud­ing abor­tion cov­er­age; the de­cision is up to the in­di­vidu­al in­surer. If a plan of­fers no abor­tion ser­vices, or of­fers them only in the case of rape, in­cest, and life en­dan­ger­ment, fed­er­al sub­sidies can go to­ward the plan as a whole. If abor­tions are in­cluded bey­ond these cases, the pay­ment for the ser­vice must be made sep­ar­ately from the rest of the premi­um.

The law man­dates that at least one plan be avail­able on each ex­change that does not in­clude abor­tion cov­er­age, should con­sumers be op­posed.

Ul­ti­mately, dis­cre­tion lies with the states, which are able to make the fi­nal rul­ing on in­clu­sion of abor­tion cov­er­age in ex­change plans. Twenty-four states have elec­ted to ban abor­tion ser­vices in their ex­change plans thus far.

Those who sup­port the bill worry about breaches in the Hyde Amend­ment through the ex­changes, and they say con­sumers should not be sub­sid­iz­ing oth­ers’ abor­tions. The two ma­jor­ity wit­nesses ar­gued that most wo­men and low-in­come in­di­vidu­als are op­posed to abor­tions and do not ac­tu­ally want them in­cluded in in­sur­ance plans.

Op­pon­ents of the bill ar­gue that fed­er­al fund­ing is already blocked from abor­tion ser­vices, and the le­gis­la­tion is really an at­tempt by an­ti­abor­tion ad­voc­ates to ban abor­tions al­to­geth­er — a claim many in the hear­ing did not seem to deny.

“Those who op­pose abor­tion have tried and failed to make it il­leg­al, so they’re try­ing to make it al­most im­possible to ob­tain,” said the minor­ity wit­ness, Susan Frank­lin Wood, as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or of health policy and dir­ect­or of the Jac­obs In­sti­tute of Wo­men’s Health at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity.

Wood poin­ted out that abor­tion has his­tor­ic­ally been covered by many private in­sur­ance plans, but wor­ries that pas­sage of this bill would cre­ate a “chilling ef­fect,” caus­ing in­surers to end cov­er­age.

The ex­cep­tion for rape and in­cest would re­quire in­surers and the IRS to make a judg­ment she says they are not qual­i­fied to make. “It raises a lot of reg­u­lat­ory, over­sight, and im­ple­ment­a­tion con­cerns that in­surers have nev­er been in­volved in. They could cut out [abor­tion cov­er­age] en­tirely to not deal with these de­term­in­a­tions.”

Pas­sage of the act would still al­low states to provide fund­ing for abor­tion ser­vices if they choose to do so. The ex­cep­tion is Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which would not be per­mit­ted to use loc­al funds.

The bill would not likely pass the Sen­ate or be signed by Pres­id­ent Obama. Still, after 2013 — which saw the second-most abor­tion re­stric­tions ever en­acted by state le­gis­latures in a single year — the hear­ing Thursday is an in­dic­a­tion that House Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t giv­ing up their fight any­time soon.

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