Catholic Bishops’ Allies Dominate Hearing on Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill

For the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it was a good day in the U.S. House of Representatives, when the all-male Subcommittee on the Constitution gave the bishops’ current top lobbyist and former anti-choice spokesperson the chance to express their support on Thursday for a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would, among other obstructionist measures, single out for tax penalties women who exercised their Constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

Because Republicans have a majority in the House, Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ), was able to use his prerogative to choose two witnesses while the Democrats were left with one. Presenting testimony in favor of HR 7, dubbed the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, were Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’S Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, and Helen M. Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University, and former spokesperson for the same USCCB secretariat.

Susan Wood, associate professor of health policy at George Washington University, testified in opposition to the bill. Wood is a former official of the Federal Drug Administration who resigned in protest in 2005 over what she saw as political interference in the approval process for the emergency contraception drug Plan B One-Step.

Forbidden to testify, despite the request of ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in the House. Because HR 7 would permanently bar the district from using revenue collected through local, not federal, taxes to fund abortions for poor women (an option that remains open to the states), Norton had asked to address the committee for five minutes. Instead, she was left to sit in the audience while the men on the committee argued over whether House rules permit her testimony.

Asked to cite a rule that would prohibit her testimony, Franks and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) dredged up a citation that prohibits House members who are not members of the committee from asking questions of witnesses—a privilege Norton did not seek.

“There is no rule—there is no rule of the House, no rule of the committee” that would have prohibited Norton’s testimony, Nadler told RH Reality Check after the hearing. In fact, he said, that very committee has, in the past, conducted hearings in which the witnesses were all members of Congress who did not sit on the committee.

HR 7 is a revamped version of a bill first introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in 2011 as a kind of payback for the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without the Stupak amendment, which would have prevented the use of the federal health-care subsidy for any insurance plan that included coverage for abortion. (That initial version, then known as HR 3, is best remembered for its attempt to redefine rape but, like its successor, it contained many other provisions that would roll back women’s rights.)

While Republicans on the committee sought to paint the bill as simply making permanent the existing prohibition of federal spending on abortion via the Hyde Amendment and similar measures, the legislation goes much further, and appears to be designed to place a burden on the private insurance industry with regard to health-care policies that cover abortion, in an effort to discourage companies from offering such policies.

Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, of which the Constitution Subcommittee is a part, offered a paean to the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion in appropriations by the Health and Human Services Committee.

“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Hyde Amendment has led to as many as 675,000 fewer abortions each year,” Goodlatte said. “Let that sink in for a few precious moments. The policy we are discussing today has likely given America the gift of millions more children and, consequently, millions more mothers, millions more fathers, millions more lifetimes, and trillions more loving gestures and other human gifts in all their diverse forms. What a stunningly wondrous legacy.”

In fact, the Hyde Amendment often leads poor women to have their abortions later in their pregnancies than they would have chosen, since it takes them a while to accumulate the funds needed, thus increasing the cost to them. After Susan Wood made the point in her testimony that these later abortions can cost as much as a month’s rent or more, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked her to explain, quipping that he needed to understand whether she was talking about a woman needing to have an abortion every month.

The current version of the Smith bill would also prohibit women from using the pre-tax dollars in their health savings accounts (HSAs) to cover the cost of an abortion, and revives the Stupak Amendment’s denial of an ACA subsidy for the purchase of any plan that covers abortion.

In her testimony, Susan Wood explained it this way:

Adding to the restrictions already in place in the ACA, further changing the tax credits for individuals and for small employers providing health care coverage could lead to significant changes in the health insurance coverage that women have had, potentially creating a “tipping point” in the nature of health insurance whereby women lose abortion coverage. It is the nature of health insurance that insurers may no longer provide plans that include coverage which would come with burdensome regulatory requirements such as proposed in H.R. 7. Since approximately 60 percent of women of reproductive age, or 37 million women, get their health coverage through private insurance, this legislation could have a profound effect.

Richard Doerflinger, the bishops’ lobbyist, said in his written testimony that he hoped that Wood’s prediction of a “tipping point” proved correct; that was the point of the legislation.

“As the Supreme Court noted approvingly three decades ago,” said Doerflinger, “the purpose of a federal funding ban is precisely to use the government’s funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) challenged Helen Alvaré, who asserted that poor women largely oppose abortion, to address polling that most anti-choice women also support the death penalty, which is at odds with Catholic doctrine. Alvaré replied that she personally opposed the death penalty.

Cohen also asked Alvaré how the bill’s burden on the District of Columbia squared with the GOP’s allowance, during the government shutdown, that the district could spend its own local tax revenues to continue government services.

“I’m not actually political on these questions,” Alvaré replied. “I try to take a principled or a legal or an empirical view.”

Cohen then addressed the USCCB’s Doeflinger, asking him how hard he is working to push for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, in light of Pope Francis’ comments on income inequality and his comments, made to a Jesuit publication, that prelates should be less obsessed with railing against abortion.

“We are very much in favor of the War on Poverty,” Doeflinger said, after listing a number of church efforts on behalf of poor people, “but we also insist—and so does Pope Francis—that that War on Poverty must never become a war on the children of the poor. Pope Francis has said it is not progressive to try to solve our problems by eliminating a human life.”

After the hearing concluded, RH Reality Check caught up with Trent Franks, the subcommittee chairman, to ask him why he chose as his two witnesses people who were affiliated with the political arm of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We chose those witnesses because of their knowledge on the issue,” Franks said. “You know, both the Democrats and the Republicans choose different witnesses, and certainly their position on the issues is a central consideration.”

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  • fiona64

    Presenting testimony in favor of HR 7, dubbed the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act,

    We already have that; it’s called the Hyde Amendment.

    I’m so sick of anti-choice male politicians “playing doctor” at the expense of women’s lives and health.

    • Plum Dumpling

      Legislatures must NOT practice medicine. We need to broken record that simple sentence. We talk too much. We defend ourselves. Wrong way to go. Just an opinion.

      I have been doing the Frank Luntz thing. I have been creating simple powerful arguments than have few words. My first sentence is one of them. It is simple. It is sensible. It is true. And it is not an explanation/apology for wanting/having an abortion.

      Legislatures must not practice medicine. Legislatures must not practice medicine. Say it loud. Say it proud.

      And let us investigate bringing a class action suit by women who have been harmed by these laws and sue the states who practicee medicine without a license. Do we have any lawyers here?

      • HeilMary1

        How about filing attempted homicide and malpractice charges against Alvare, the bishops and Lisa Graas above? Go to a DC police station and file criminal charges. I’m pretty sure Graas promotes the mother-killing NFP scam that ruined my family and made my “brothers” intersex gay.

  • Lisa Graas

    Wow. The hatred of men is vicious here. Helen M. Alvaré is a woman, by the way. So am I. Abortion is murder.

    • Ivy Mike

      Funny, I’m a man, and I’ve seen no such hatred directed at me. At anti-choice, anti-woman, rape-apologistic jerks, sure, but they (male and female) deserve it.

      And abortion is not murder. That sentiment is a bumper-sticker sound-bite, not any sort of fact. It’s one that people spout in lieu of an actual argument.

      • CJ99

        or as I call it, its a verbal fart. btw I’ve never been targeted by imaginary man haters here either. Most of those who hated me can be found inside churches calling themselves christians.

    • cjvg

      Please explain, with examples lifted from the commentary you are referring to, where exactly “hatred of me ” is so viciously displayed according to you!

      Stating that anti-choice men who will NEVER have to endure the consequences of taking away women’s reproductive rights called out for their illegal and questionable attempts to practice medicine without a license is NOT hatred of men, it is the reality of their attempts to make very personal far reaching and intimate choices for women who they do not even know and do not care to know!

    • Jennifer Starr

      So what punishment do you think that women who have an abortion should receive?

      • HeilMary1

        She supports Magdalene Laundries and death camps like the Nazi ones her favorite Nazi Poop, Paul VI, funded in Croatia during WWII to exterminate 1 million Serb Christian “heretics”. Her Vatican-funded Ustasha (Catholic Action) genociders targeted pregnant Serbs with belly gutting and the dicing of their fetal “heretics”. Pro-life my ass! Cardinal Montini aka Paul VI should have been hanged at Nuremberg!

    • RonPaul2012

      yeah. What Jennifer Starr said.

      What kind of punishment should women who procure an abortion or ingest something that will kill an innocent unborn baby receive?

      Life in prison?

      Death penalty?

      30 years?

      Do tell.

    • Ramanusia

      The only vicious hatred here is that which you bring with you. Helen and yourself are quite capable of being vicious hateful misogynists regardless of your gender. Abortion is not murder, stating otherwise is announcing your vicious hatred of dictionaries, the English language, simple definitions and truth telling.

      Ironically, what is actually murder, in that it kills actual living, breathing people in violation of ethics, the law and simple human decency, is DENYING women medical procedures such as abortion because one is either so blinded by hate, or just too ignorant to understand simple medical realities.

    • HeilMary1

      Again: I personally know that Alvare and Doerflinger are fascist monsters. Alvare hung up on me when I tried to tell her about my mom’s abuse and when Doerflinger realized I was a nobody peon at my conservative company, he screamed insults at me.

      You are a mother-killing womb trafficker for pedophile priests. And your malpractice scam of UNnatural Family Cramming outsourced my fed-up dad to hookers, nearly killed my mom, forced her to burn my skin off as her abstinence-FOREVER excuse, and made my younger brother INTERSEXED GAY.

      Keep your Nazi pedophile priest-blessed rosaries off our ovaries!

    • HeilMary1

      Your favorite Rethug bullies, Father James T. Burtchaell, Deal Hudson, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Randall Terry and Eric Prince, are fornicating mother-killing pigs who exempt themselves from the insulting marital chastity only or maternal death extortions they force on us “sexual unworthies”.

      Burtchaell bullied married women who didn’t shred their bladders and bowels by producing fresh altar boys for him TO RAPE. Hudson cheated on all 3 wives and raped a Fordham student. Gingrich and “Catholic” Call-Girl-ista have produced ZERO kids from their 20 years of adulterous oral sex. Viagra-stealing Limbaugh and Buchanan are deliberately CHILD-FREE after decades of marriages and affairs. Adulterous Terry dumped his second or third wife when she refused to suicide by childbirth. Prince murdered his first brood mare with multiple breast cancer-causing pregnancies so he could marry their preggers nanny sl*t.

    • HeilMary1

      P.S. YOU MURDERED MY ADULT MALE NEIGHBOR with your selfish pro-pedophile priest enforcement of unwanted pregnancies that robs already born disabled people of needed care!

    • fiona64

      Abortion is murder.

      No, actually, it isn’t. Murder is the unlawful (illegal) taking of a person’s life with malice aforethought. Abortion is a legal medical procedure, so your canard fails on that premise alone; that which is legal cannot simultaneously be unlawful. Furthermore, a fetus is not a person; personhood accrues at birth (see 14th Amendment to the US Constitution), so you fail again.

      If you’re okay with men you’ve never even met making your medical decisions, rock on. The rest of us don’t have to be.

    • HeilMary1

      ALL abortions are medical SELF-DEFENSE.

    • expect_resistance

      It’s not a hatred of men. It’s a hatred of oppression and misogyny.

    • HeilMary1

      You’re a murderous traitor to women. Are you mad at the rest of us because most are younger and prettier? Are you imposing obstetric bladder and bowel incontinence just to get even? That’s CRIMINAL Munchausen by Proxy abuse, perp tart.

    • madame48

      if abortion really is murder…why don’t you pass laws prosecuting the women for those murders…THEY made the choice after all. or are you afraid that would show what religious radicals you really are for trying to make all women live by your religious dogma just like Iran or Pakistan. oh, and I can promise you, you wouldn’t like it if I got laws passed making YOU live MY religious faith, so what makes you so special?

    • sophie

      Your hatred of women having the ability to control what happens to their own bodies, and your obvious support of misogynistic dogma is pathetic. Many women identify with patriarchy, particularly right wing patriarchal religious propaganda. Too bad for those misogynistic women that they would prefer to honor and obey those who only abuse and strip women of their HUMAN RIGHTS. Women are not broodmares–women are not incubators for fetuses. You have lost your humanity by YOUR vicious condemnation of a woman’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy.

    • colleen2

      Lisa…abortion is day surgery and your opinion is irrelevant.

    • lady_black

      Oh most of us love men, and we have many men who post here. And by “man” I mean male person who loves and respects the women in their lives, and believe women in general to be intelligent and autonomous adults who are fully capable of making their own decisions and running their own lives. Now YOU, I don’t think a whole lot of. Calling my late mother a murderer isn’t likely to win you many friends or influence people here.

    • Plum Dumpling

      If abortion is murder, you will have NO problem providing me with a case in which a woman was arrested, tried and convicted of murder for having an abortion, illegal or otherwise. I will wait.

    • Plum Dumpling

      Tell the Roman Catholic Church that. They just defended themselves in a law suit for medical neglect by claiming “a fetus is not a person.”

    • CJ99

      The only viciousness here is what you brought with you out of deliberate ignorance. btw I’m a guy who supports the right for people to decide their fate for themselves. I do not support your disgusting attitude.

      Heres 1 last hint for you: you are among those who fight back against your insane desire to turn the rest of the world into a theocratic state. You will not have an easy time turning 1600 pennsylvania into the “white mosque” for the mullah in chief.

    • Ella Warnock

      Lisa, just shut up.

  • kduke

    I’d like to ask Mr Goodlatte what programs he supports to make sure those 675,000 births he is so proud of have food and shelter? Or does Republican pathos end at birth?

    • Andrea McDavid

      Yes. Having been one of those women herded into not aborting 26 years ago, I can assure you, you are fed and sheltered when you are pregnant and on the streets, but within a month or two at most, you and your child are totally on your own and surrounded by wolves. Why do people think so many women in the sex trade are young single moms. It’s the only work they can do that allows them the time with their young kids and the money to support them. Such a set up and a vicious cycle that serves only abusers, from start to finish. It has always been this way and it always will if people who still have some rights and leverage over their lives, don’t wise up and stop giving not just the leading abusers, but all their so called good folks followers, what they want. Sex and other services such as…oh I dunno. Lets see how long it would take for any large church where women are stay at home moms, breeding wildly, lets just have them all stop being any good at cooking. Oops, that’s way too much salt lol. Those communities rely on women to fuel them, relax them, make them comfortable. That’s a hell of a lot of power. They just need to exercise it somehow. Maybe only a few do, and some outside their congregations can do it too. Strike on women’s services to the slave drivers. It would be messy but this nonsense would be over in short shrift, an appropriate phrase because of its origin as follows:

      “An almost forgotten antique. A shrift is a penance (a prescribed penalty) imposed by a priest in a confession in order to provide absolution, often when the confessor was near to death. In the 17th century, criminals were sent to the scaffold immediately after sentencing and only had time for a ‘short shrift’ before being hanged.

      Shakespeare was the first to write it down, in Richard III, 1594.” [The Phrase Finder]

      • HeilMary1

        We need a GLOBAL birth strike because the purpose of mother-killing fetal idolaters is to keep priests and wealthy men supplied with unlimited starving child and young adult prostitutes.

    • HeilMary1

      The RCC/GOP war on us already-born MURDERED my next door neighbor by denying him affordable insurance for his brittle diabetes. His mother is furious that unwed mothers get covered, but her single childless son couldn’t get coverage. I tried to explain that coverage for those mothers usually ends after they give birth, and if they weren’t bullied into the pregnancies to begin with by pompous heretic anti-family planners like Alvare and Graas, there would be sufficient funds for her disabled adult son.

    • tatoo

      Obviously it ends at birth. Cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits are designed to starve the kids. Have them, and then starve them is the Republican motto.

    • NB

      I looked up the CBO estimate information in the Goodlatte quote, and what he said is an inaccurate characterization of the CBO information. CBO did NOT estimate that the Hyde Amendment had prevented 675,000 abortions.

      What the CBO estimated was that if the Hyde Amendment had not been in place, the government would have paid for 675,000 abortions.

      I was unable to find any CBO estimate on how many abortiobs the Hyde amendment had prevented.

  • HeilMary1

    I personally know that Alvare and Doerflinger are fascist monsters. Alvare hung up on me when I tried to tell her about my mom’s abuse and when Doerflinger realized I was a nobody peon at my conservative company, he screamed insults at me.

    • expect_resistance

      They both sounds like psychos.

      • HeilMary1

        Doerflinger viciously libeled in The Washington Post Sunday Magazine the doctors who saved his brother’s life. His brother remains disabled (brain damaged?) from an auto accident after a college party. Doerflinger claims because abortions are legal in the US, those ER doctors deliberately neglected him, causing permanent damage. So the ER doctors were doing elective abortions instead of reviving him?! That’s absurd! The real ugly truth is likely that he and their sex-hating parents decided to punish the prodigal brother for possibly kissing a girl by bullying the doctors to withhold some vital treatments!

  • expect_resistance

    Thanks for the update. I am really getting tried of this crap from the RCC and the bishops.

    WTF, proposed tax penalties for women who exercised their Constitutional right to end a pregnancy?

  • NB

    I looked up the CBO estimate information in the Goodlatte quote, and what he said is an inaccurate characterization of the CBO information.

    CBO did NOT estimate that the Hyde Amendment had prevented 675,000 abortions.

    What the CBO estimated was that if the Hyde Amendment had not been in place, the government would have paid for 675,000 abortions.

    I was unable to find any CBO estimate on how many abortions the Hyde amendment had prevented.