On the eve of the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice crowd in the House of Representatives has introduced H.R. 3, No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a monstrosity that would set back women's reproductive rights further than any single act since the Supreme Court made its famous ruling. Already beset by a series of legislatively imposed retreats over the past few decades, women's right to obtain an abortion would be further curtailed by this latest proposal, introduced by the most anti-choice member of Congress, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), and co-sponsored by 161 House members. Speaker John Boehner is making it a priority.
One progressive activist lamented that the GOP leadership would not only "Blitzkrieg" the proposal through the House, but also use it to divide the Democratic coalition. The composition of the House membership means the bill will most certainly pass. And unlike the repeal of the health insurance reform package passed by the House this week, H.R.3 could very well pass the Senate, too, short of a filibuster. That means the only thing between it and enactment is President Obama's veto pen.
If it became law, the bill would go a good deal further than merely making the Hyde Amendment permanent. That amendment - actually an appropriations rider - bars federal money from being spent on abortions for women dependent on Medicaid, Medicare and the Indian Health Service. Hyde-inspired laws also deny abortion rights to active-duty military women (even if they spend their own money) and to women veterans. Since it was first passed in 1977, however, the Hyde Amendment has had to be annually renewed. H.R. 3 would end that requirement by making the Hyde restrictions permanent.
But the Smith bill goes much further, extending the Hyde ban throughout the health care system even when only private funds are used to pay for an abortion. At the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky writes:
- It would deny tax credits to employers or other entities that pay for health plans that cover abortion - It would deny tax credits to individuals or entities that pay for abortion care - Disallow medical deductions for payments for any health plan that includes abortion coverage or for any medical expenses related to abortion care - Treat as income any amounts paid for an abortion from a tax-preferred trust or account, such as a health savings account
Yes, you're reading correctly. As Jessica Arons at the Center for American Progress says:
H.R. 3 would redefine the concept of government funding far beyond the current common understanding. Rather than simply prohibiting the use of federal funds to directly pay for abortion, H.R. 3 would insert itself into every crevice of government activity and prohibit even private and non-federal government funds from being spent on any activity related to the provision of abortion any time federal money is involved in funding or subsidizing other, non-abortion-related activities.
While there is no doubt the bill goes further than Hyde, there is some dispute over how much further. For example, some critics say it would not allow an employer to deduct the costs of any insurance plans that include abortion coverage as an add-on option. Others disagree. Because of the wording of the bill, all kinds of questions arise. Could it be used to deduct federal money transferred to hospitals for Medicare reimbursements if they continued to offer abortions? And could the same thing happen to federal Medicaid payments now going to the 17 states that use their own money to cover abortions that fall outside the narrow Hyde guidelines? The answers are simply unknown, but the intent of the anti-choicers is perfectly clear.
The sisters, wives and daughters of John Boehner, Chris Smith and other affluent Americans will always have access to safe, professional abortions even if Roe v. Wade is reversed tomorrow. They can afford to fly out of the country if need be. So, despite their "moral" camouflage, the Hyde Amendment and Smith's No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act are not only an attack on women's rights, but also a blatantly class-based attack on those rights. Pregnant women without money are coerced into giving birth. For decades, since five minutes after Roe v. Wade was decided, the anti-choice forces have been nibbling away at reproductive rights, making abortion ever more difficult to obtain. NTFAA will be the biggest bite of all. It remains to be seen whether pro-choice forces in the Senate will put up an effective battle to defang it.