The Initial Assaults on Abortion Rights in 2011

The first urgent business for the incoming 112th Congress was supposed to be a call to repeal the health care bill. Proclaiming a mandate, newly elected Congressional members and incumbents were on message about ObamaCare and what the American people want. They decried the mandatory purchase of health insurance and the penalty for refusing to do so. While they focused on the “will of the people,” as they read it from the results of the midterm elections, they were very busy planning the will of the conservatives to enact new, highly restrictive abortion laws.

To start off the new session and the first of many assaults on abortion, Representative Mike Pense (R-Ind) has written a bill with the catchy title, “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (HR 217).”  He was able to garner over 122 co-sponsors to this bill, which literally would make organizations that offer abortion services with their own funds ineligible for federal Title X grants. These grants fund family planning and other preventive health services.  Pense cites Planned Parenthood as one of his major targets, but claims that funding for organizations that do family planning but do not offer abortions could keep their funds. Hmm, which ones?  Are they faith based?  Are they violating separation of church and state? There is already a law prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions in Title X programs, so what is the real agenda?

And on the theory of let’s repeat ourselves on the no taxpayer funds for abortions theme, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) has insisted that the Congress needs yet another law restricting taxpayer funding of abortions.  The Hyde Amendment covers this but that does not seem to stop new legislation. Smith has introduced the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 5939),” and currently has 185 co-sponsors.  This bill was highlighted in the Pledge to America. Since the majority of Americans are in favor of Roe vs Wade, the pledge seems to be for a minority of Americans.
On another front in Nebraska, which already has a plethora of laws chipping away at abortion rights, State Senator Beau McCoy introduced legislation that excludes abortion coverage from policies obtained through health insurance exchanges, which are scheduled to begin in 2014. His bill also would limit coverage of abortion in all private insurance plans sold in the state. Abortion coverage would be allowed only through an optional rider that is paid for solely by the insured.  This ploy appears to part of the playbook of conservatives to make abortion financially impossible for most Americans. If a woman pays for her own insurance, why should she have the additional burden of writing an additional check or have to find insurance that will even cover her? At what point do we acknowledge that many woman pay taxes and might want their tax dollars to cover abortion and contraception rather than Viagra or war related expenses? In the same vein of what is legal rather than personal belief, it will be instructive to see Representatives Pense and Smith point to the section or article in the constitution that deals with requiring women to pay for abortion riders in insurance plans. 
In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell is considering backing a law that will impose more regulations on abortion clinics. He is also looking into the high rates of abortions in metropolitan areas.  If Rep. Pense’s legislation to defund Planned Parenthood is passed, then the Governor may find that pregnancy rates climb even higher as low income teens have no places for counseling.  If these teens cannot receive contraceptive information, the state may be overwhelmed with either botched abortions from backroom alleys or have their Medicaid funds stretched to pay for these dependent children. In many cases, this applies to the mother and the child.

In Texas, the newly empowered Republican state legislature plans to make deep cuts in budgets and propose that women seeking abortions must have sonograms and look at them before they can exercise their constitutional right to have an abortion. Will they include payment for this sonogram? It is interesting to note that the same states that rail against mandates for health insurance have no issue writing mandates that force people to undergo a procedure that they do not want, study it and pay for it.  Dare I say that this type of invasion of privacy is considered permissible when it is a woman? Where in the Constitution is the authority to do this?

For a comprehensive list of legislative trends in 2010, RHReality has a very well written article.  As always, you can find a list of laws by state that have been passed since the murder of George Tiller on our blog under Reproductive Choice.

Whether on a state or a federal level, conservatives are mounting a full frontal assault on the rights of women. When women control their bodies, they control their destinies. When laws control their bodies, they become trapped by their own biology.  Roe vs Wade is under attack. We can no longer count on a Supreme Court that will rule on precedent. We can no longer count on a Congress that will stop this attack.  Over the past year we have seen women’s reproductive rights being compromised again and again for other issues. We can only count on ourselves to confront this challenge. 

Gail Yamner, President


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