Last week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed legislation that would permanently block federal funds from being used to pay for abortions and health insurance plans that cover the procedure. Progress Illinois takes a closer look at the issue and rounds up some reaction to the measure, which was put forward after GOP leaders dropped a more restrictive bill seeking to ban abortions 20 weeks after conception.
Supporters of reproductive rights are denouncing "dangerous" legislation passed last week by the Republican-controlled U.S. House that would permanently block federal funds from being used to pay for abortions and health insurance plans that cover the procedure.
By a 242-179 vote, the House on Thursday passed H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, after GOP leaders dropped a more restrictive bill the day before that sought to ban abortions 20 weeks after conception. The White House has issued presidential veto threats against both anti-abortion proposals.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL,3) was one of three Democrats who voted in support of H.R. 7. And just one House Republican, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY,22), voted against it.
GOP leaders abandoned the 20-week ban, included in H.R. 36, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, following objections from several female, moderate Republican legislators, including Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC,2) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN,2), over a sexual assault exception that would require rape survivors to file a police report before obtaining an abortion.
"The events of last week do illustrate pretty graphically that the Republican Party is deeply divided into two wings, and one of the wings of the party centered in the Tea Party movement really wants to act on and take lead on these social movement issues," explained John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "Of course, there's a heavy overlap between the Tea Party and the fundamentalist church people, and they have always seen the social issues as being the top of their agenda. And the more business oriented and establishment part of the party wants to change the subject, and has been trying to change the subject. And they weren't able to do so last week, and so we had almost a spectacle of the House being deeply divided (on) how to handle this very volatile, high-profile issue."
After GOP leaders shelved the 20-week abortion ban proposal, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said she never thought she would "see the day that the Tea Party-led House of Representatives would wake up to the fact that their priorities--outright abortion bans--are way out of touch with the American people."
"The GOP drafted a bill so extreme and so out of touch with the voters that even their own membership could not support it," Hogue wrote in a statement. "That being said, shifting from one bill to restrict a women's ability to make her own health care choices to another will not solve this political problem for the GOP. Bringing up this new bill to restrict health care options for women and tax small businesses, like the 20-week ban bill, is a sad waste of the faith that voters put in the Republican Party to come up with new solutions to actual problems in 2015."
Thursday's passage of H.R. 7 came on the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade. Abortion opponents were also in Washington, D.C. on Thursday for the annual March for Life rally.
Jackson noted that public opinion polling shows that Americans today are "pretty much satisfied" with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
"It's certainly true that the law of the land is Roe v. Wade, and a great number of Republicans don't accept that, but most Americans do," he said. "And they don't want to re-debate Roe v. Wade, and they don't want it overturned. (That's) the way I read the polls."
Among other provisions, the legislation that cleared the House despite a presidential veto threat would make the Hyde Amendment permanent. The Hyde Amendment, which Congress first passed in 1976, bans the use of federal funds to cover most abortions. The measure needs to be reauthorized by Congress each year. Reproductive rights advocates say the Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income women, as the measure restricts the use of Medicaid funds for the procedure.
Also, H.R. 7 would bar small businesses from receiving tax credits if they provide health care plans that cover abortions, while also banning "coverage of abortion services for women insured by multi-state health plans under the ACA--private health-insurance plans which offer consumers a uniform array of health benefits in every state in which they operate," according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. The legislation, which carves out abortion coverage exceptions in the cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, includes health insurance disclosure requirements about abortion coverage and would restrict the District of Columbia from using locally-raised funds to help low-income women afford abortion care, according to the National Abortion Fund.
Some media reports indicate that Senate Republicans would likely have a hard time securing the 60 votes needed to defeat an opponent-led filibuster on the anti-abortion legislation.
Jackson, however, said he's not ruling out the possibility of the bill passing in the upper chamber.
There's "clearly a strong contingent of the Republican Party, which now controls the Senate, that wants to do that, and it mixes not only the abortion question but also help to pay their health insurance bill, which of course taps into that anti-ACA environment," Jackson said. "The president will certainly veto it. But nevertheless, I think there's some chance that it may pass the Senate as well."
In a joint statement issued Thursday, leaders of anti-abortion groups including the Susan B. Anthony List, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee expressed disappointment that the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was not called for a House vote. However, they are "pleased that the House is moving forward to stop taxpayer funding of abortion."
It remains to be seen whether a revised bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be considered in the House at a later date. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who sponsored the 20-week ban in the Senate, said the upper chamber might take up the measure after changes are made.
Looking ahead, the anti-abortion groups said they plan to work "with the House Republican leadership to ensure the maximum number of votes" on the 20-week ban.
"We will also be working with the bill's sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham to continue advancing this measure in the U.S. Senate," the statement added. "Both the House Leadership and Senator Graham have assured us they are not backing down."
Thirteen U.S. states already have laws on the books banning abortions after 20 weeks.
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, blasted the GOP-controlled House on Thursday for "playing politics with women's health" and passing H.R. 7, which she called an "extreme assault on abortion care." Here is Ness' full statement:
The extreme anti-choice action in the House of Representatives this afternoon was an embarrassing spectacle -- congressional leaders playing politics with women's health and women's lives. To add insult to injury, they passed an extreme assault on abortion care on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the milestone U.S. Supreme Court ruling that improved women's health, dignity, privacy and economic security in deep and meaningful ways.
The bill the House passed this afternoon, H.R. 7, is dangerous legislation designed to end insurance coverage for abortion services. The 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act' threatens women's access to medical care, and raises taxes on women and small businesses. It could end coverage for abortion care in insurance plans. It would permanently deny access to insurance coverage for abortion care in federally supported health insurance plans that cover low-income women, among others.
It was an insidious, ideological attack and an affront to everyone who cares about women's health. The last-minute political maneuvering to avoid offending women failed. House leaders should recognize that any attack on women's reproductive health care will alienate and offend women.
The House of Representatives failed women and the country today.
The National Women's Law Center, meanwhile, called H.R. 7 a "misguided" piece of legislation that would turn "the tax code into a punitive tool to deny women comprehensive health insurance that includes abortion coverage."
"Millions of women could lose the ability to make personal decisions about their health and their future," Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said in a statement. "After failing to garner enough support to pass a bill that directly bans abortion, the House passed a bill that could have the same impact by making abortion unaffordable for so many women. The harmful restrictions imposed by this bill would endanger women's health and place particular burdens on low-income women. The center urges the Senate to stand with women and oppose this dangerous legislation."
Image: CQ Roll Call via AP Images