This article is cross-posted with permission from The Hill.
This week, I attended the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing on HR 358, the so-called “Protect Life Act,” sponsored by Representatives Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Dan Lipiniski (D-IL). Despite its name, this bill would actually put the lives of women at risk. In addition to making it all but impossible for women to get insurance coverage for abortion care in the new state health exchanges—even if they use their own money—this bill would let public hospitals refuse to provide emergency abortion care even when necessary to save a woman’s life.
Republican supporters of this bill and their witnesses repeatedly asserted in the hearing that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life.
That is simply not true.
In fact, just last year, such a case garnered national media attention when a Catholic nun and longtime administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix was excommunicated for allowing a woman to terminate her pregnancy in order to save her life.
The pregnant woman was critically ill with pulmonary hypertension, which limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function. According to a statement from St. Joseph’s Hospital Vice President Suzanne Pfister:
“In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy.”
On our toll-free Hotline, we have heard from many other women who needed to obtain abortion care in order to save their lives—women who had cancer and needed to immediately begin live-saving treatment. Such treatment would harm the fetus and was incompatible with carrying the pregnancy to term.
In addition to prohibiting emergency abortion care, Representative Pitts’ agenda is so extreme that this bill originally attempted to narrow the definition of rape and incest. Although he removed this language from the bill after weeks of public outrage, the rest of its provisions are also extreme and would adversely affect the lives and health of women. Abortion care is basic health care for women and should not be treated differently from other health care services.
This bill could have devastating consequences for the more than one million women who choose abortion each year—women like Dana Weinstein and Mary Vargas who were with us on the Hill this week to explain how this bill’s provisions would have affected their ability to make the decisions that were best for their families.
Dana found out during a very wanted pregnancy that her baby was missing a main part of its brain, and that the surface of the brain was malformed and severely underdeveloped, a condition called polymicrogyria. Her baby would likely not survive birth. Dana and her husband did not want to bring a child into the world that would only be here in a vegetative state, if at all.
Dana was unable to obtain the abortion care she needed in her home state of Maryland, so she had to travel across the country to Colorado to one of a small number of specialized providers and pay $17, 500 out-of-pocket for her care. She then had to enlist the help of legal counsel and spent more than a year appealing before her insurance company finally agreed to cover the total cost of her abortion care. However, it was a significant financial burden for her family to shoulder, especially at such a devastatingly emotional time.
After undergoing years of fertility treatments, Mary was pregnant with a son, already named David, when she found out at 22 weeks of pregnancy that due to the atrophy of his lungs and kidneys—a condition known as Potter’s Syndrome—there was virtually no chance of his survival beyond a few hours, if indeed he survived until birth. Her husband was a federal employee so their insurance would not cover her abortion care.
Mary and her husband were faced with the choice of terminating the pregnancy if they could afford the out-of-pocket expenses, or waiting and allowing their son to suffer without comfort—to feel his bones being crushed and broken in the absence of amniotic fluid, until he died in utero, or at delivery, suffocating to death in the absence of developed lungs. As Mary describes, they chose to terminate the pregnancy “because choosing mercy was the only thing we could do for our unborn son.”
HR 358 would deny coverage for abortion care even for women facing situations like Dana and Mary. It is unconscionable that anti-choice legislators are continuing their attempts to further restrict women’s access to abortion care.
We’ve defeated legislation like this before. HR 358 is a new version of the old Stupak-Pitts amendment from the health care reform debate, which was soundly defeated in the Senate. It is imperative that we defeat this extreme attack on women once again, and ensure that women like Dana and Mary can access the abortion care they need.