Policy Inequality

This bill could strip low-income women from their right to choose

Today, we’re looking at H.R. 7, a bill to prohibit tax payer funded abortions and its effect on women’s healthcare nationwide. 

H.R. 7, known as the “No Taxpayer Funded Abortions Act,” was first introduced to the House in 2015, though under a different title.  It passed the House, but failed to pass in the Senate in 2015. It was on the docket for this week, even though the House had an abbreviated schedule with a retreat.  It is the only “non-suspension” vote for the House and has a higher likelihood of passing the Senate than it did in 2015.

This bill was introduced by New Jersey Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and has 57 co-sponsors, 56 of whom are Republican and 1 of whom is a Democrat (from Illinois). Smith was also the original sponsor of the 2015 version of this bill, which has identical language.

As of January 24th, H.R. 7 is on its way to the Senate after passing 238-183. Please call your Senator (see bottom of article) about this Act!

What’s the deal with this bill?

This bill, H.R. 7, is an Act that will make the Hyde Amendment permanent legislation. It also prevents any federal funds or federal employees to participate in abortion services. The exceptions are in cases of pregnancy caused by incest or rape, or “in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”

What’s tricky about this clause is that Congress has to figure out how to enforce the proof of incest and rape. The 2015 battle over this bill failed because they attempted to require police reports in incidents of rape and incest, igniting outrage from several groups.

The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976 and blocks use of Medicaid funds for abortions, with the same exemptions described above. It is passed every year as part of an appropriations bill.

How does taking away federal funding change things? 

This bill not only prevents federally funded healthcare providers from providing safe and affordable abortions to women, which the existing Hyde Amendment already does quite effectively, but it would also restrict small businesses and all employers who provide health plans “from getting an Affordable Care Act tax credit if they purchase employee health plans that include abortion coverage on the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP exchange,” according to Politico.

Think about how limiting insurance options affects women who rely on Medicaid and other federally funded programs for their healthcare. There are currently 15.6 million women on Medicaid, 1 in 5 of whom are of reproductive age and most of whom are women of color. This action disproportionately affects low-income non-white women who depend on support from federally funded programs to receive necessary healthcare.

If we take a step back, we can see that this Act is also a strategic measure for Congress. In their fight to take away funding for Planned Parenthood, which is included in part of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they are looking for precedent. This Act will likely be used as a logical precursor to defunding Planned Parenthood completely.

Whoa. What do we make of all this? 

No. Nope. No thank you. We reject this kind of legislation, which makes legislators feel like they are solving some sort of abortion problem, when in fact they are jeopardizing the health and well-being of women who depend on federal programs for their reproductive healthcare, including all civil servants. Denying coverage of reproductive options, including abortion, does not mean women will not still seek it out as an option — it means that many women will not have access to safe procedures.

While it may seem innocuous to make the Hyde Amendment permanent, as it is passed every year as a part of an appropriations bill anyway, this Act is dangerous and threatens the most vulnerable among us. It is also much more than the Hyde Amendment – it would prevent women serving overseas who depend on military hospitals to have access to safe procedures and early access.

This is also a slippery slope and categorizes abortions as a non-healthcare issue for women. This idea directly opposes the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade. We just passed the 44th anniversary of this decision on January 22nd – and we are still fighting to uphold it in courts across the country and defending against Congress stepping in today. Roe vs. Wade “recognized that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion without interference from politicians.” So, why does it still feel like Congress is trying to criminalize it by distancing themselves from it as a healthcare issue?

This measure means safe abortions will be an option only for those who can afford them. It does not mean that fewer abortions will occur. Let’s help Congress get their facts straight and think about the women in this equation. And the law. Don’t let them step into this private marketplace or into difficult decisions best left to women and their healthcare providers.

President Obama said in 2015 that the federal government “should not be injecting itself into decisions best made between women, their families and their doctors.” That is a president who acknowledged the legality and rightful stance that abortions are part of a woman’s right to choose her own medical treatment in all cases.

So, what can you do to help? 

As always, call your representatives. Tell them how you feel, even if they are sponsors of this bill (mine are!). Call them and leave a message. They have to take note of how many people contact their offices about a particular matter. Don’t let them continue under the assumption that taking away federal funding for abortion providers some how fixes the problem of unwanted pregnancies. It worsens the situation for everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable.

You can even ask your representatives to vote to repeal the Hyde Amendment! It’s the kind of thing that needs to go away. All women deserve access to affordable health care and reproductive care, including abortion.

Find your representative here and tell them you care!

By Perry Hodgkins Jones

Staff Writer erry Hodgkins Jone is a published writer, environmental advocate, and non-profit worker with a Master's in Theology and the Environment from Sewanee and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Wellesley College. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two cats.