House Republicans have given into the pressure created by their shiny object of redefining rape, removing the phrase "forcible rape" and leaving the government-infringing, tax-raising rest of H.R. 3 in place. Pro-choice Democratic House members are not impressed.
"Look, my reaction is this is not really changing things that much," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told TPM in an interview today. "This exposed them for what their true intentions are. Now that they're exposed they're trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and it's not going to work."
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) wasn't interested in giving the sponsors of H.R.3 much credit for altering their bill under pressure from pro-choice groups.
"It's still a totally flawed bill," Maloney told TPM. "I would call it the deepest attack on a woman's right to choose in my lifetime."
"It's unusual that a new Republican majority who says their probity is jobs and job creation would say that their first major action and their first major bill would take action to take women down and take women back," Maloney said. "This is an anti-woman bill, an anti-choice bill and an anti-respect [for women's ability to make medical decisions] bill."
Proponents of the bill have said the intent is to make current federal prohibitions on abortion funding like the Hyde Amendment, which has to be renewed every year, a permanent fixture in the law. Representatives for Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the lead sponsor of the bill and a chair of the House Pro-Life caucus, said that the changes to the wording announced this morning are designed to bring H.R. 3 in line with the prohibitions on the books.
Maloney would have none of it. She pointed to the provisions making it tougher for women to seek abortion coverage from private insurers found in the law and dismissed the idea that the bill is simply Hyde set in legal stone.
"Make sure you get this down," she told me. "It goes far, far, far, far beyond current law."
We already went there with the Affordable Care Act. We heard again and again, oh, it's just Hyde, doesn't go any further (as though removing critical health decisions for millions of women--who are low-income, in the military or government employment is just peachy), but Stupak/Nelson did. It extended the forced birth reach of the government far beyond the women who are at the mercy of government for their care, and for the first time into private insurance plans. H.R. 3 takes it so much further, "to include under their definition of 'taxpayer funding for abortion' all tax deductions, credits or other benefits for the cost of health insurance, when that insurance includes under its plan coverage for abortion." That's 87 percent of insurance plans.
If the anti-choice zealots can successfully enact a law that gives the federal government the inroads and leverage to impose tax penalties on the availability of abortion services coverage, what prevents their using the same power to penalize contraception coverage? And that's just the smallest theoretical step you can make from the abortion issue. Nevermind that the theory is the same whether they want to reach into other areas of medical coverage, or anything else they'd like to get their hands on. Same sex partner benefits, for instance? Health benefits won through collective bargaining by public employees' unions? You can all certainly imagine more.
The pro-choice caucus needs to be educating other Dem members, particularly in the Senate, about the dangerous, far-reaching effects this bill could have. And the pro-choice activist groups need to reach out to other progressive groups to get their cooperation. They also need to be educating President Obama, and reminding him that he owes the pro-choice community a helluva lot for their support on health insurance reform.