It is ironic that the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed H.R. 3, the proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, just in time for Mother’s Day. Is this really a gift to the mothers of America?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, six in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. Many of them already have two or more children and often cite these offspring as a primary reason for seeking an abortion. And yet, the institute reported in June 2009, “approximately one-fourth of women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions if the Hyde Amendment didn’t exist instead give birth when this funding is unavailable.’’ By expanding and making permanent the Hyde Amendment, H.R. 3 makes being a mother more of a chore than a choice.
A critical problem with H.R. 3 and the “abortion debate” in general is that the field of concern is far too narrow. Abortion is a single procedure among a vast array of services women receive from time to time as part of their medical care. The real issue should focus on the woman, whose life, health and body are the proper context for a discussion that too often ignores this reality. H.R. 3 should instead be subtitled the “No Taxpayer Funding for Women’s Health Act.” In an astonishingly honest statement last month, the Family Research Council—don’t be fooled by the secular name, it’s actually the latest iteration of the religious right—wrote, “If it survives, the legislation would do more than wall off federal funds from the abortion industry.”
Well, the council got that right. Notwithstanding that current law already forbids using federal money to fund abortion, the proposed act would seriously compromise access to health care for millions of women who need coverage for reproductive health as part of their insurance plans.
First, it would make health care less available by preventing federal tax credits (the primary way that the Affordable Care Act expands coverage) from being used by individuals to purchase policies that included coverage for abortion. Second, it would forbid insurance companies participating in the exchange (another way that health care reform reduces costs) to offer benefit plans that included abortion coverage. Third, it would also prohibit a woman from using her own money from her health savings account (HSA) to pay for an abortion. This is doubly ironic since one of the main components of health reforms proposed by Republicans is the expansion of HSAs. Finally, it would withhold the 35 percent tax credit that the act provides to help small businesses provide health care to their employees.
For the party that proclaims itself a friend of small business, this is not a business-friendly thing to do. For example, an employer with 10 employees could easily spend $70,000 on health insurance. The credit would save that employer $24,500, or roughly the salary of one employee. This would present many small businesses with the choice of (a) laying off one worker to afford health insurance for the other nine employees or (b) collecting an additional $200 from each of the 10 employees. And this is true if any one of the family members covered by the workers’ insurance or just one of the 10 employees is a woman to whom the employer wishes to offer full health coverage including reproductive health benefits. This amounts to an annual penalty of $24,500 for a procedure that costs only $500 and may never be provided to anyone covered by the policy.
The Family Research Council’s version of these facts is as dishonest as the bill is unnecessary: “[H.R. 3] would also do away with the preferential treatment for abortion in the tax code. As it stands now, insurance plans that cover the procedure are rewarded with a tax break from the IRS.” What the council neglects to say is that all insurance plans are eligible for the aforementioned tax break. It shades the facts to suggest that abortion is the target of the tax incentives of the Affordable Care Act when the truth is that the fraction of the total cost of health insurance represented by abortions is minuscule.
The anti-choice forces in the abortion debate launch their assault from the most remote quarters (the public square, the church, the legislature), bypass the woman and move inward toward the fetus. By doing this they make a nonperson of the woman while claiming valiantly to confer personhood on the fetus. They substitute their voice for the fetus and ignore the voice of the woman right in front of them. Whether life begins at conception or at birth is a statement of faith, not fact. The legal fact is that the fetus is not a person but the woman is.
The fact is that the fetus is a part of the woman and not a political football for the religious right. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice supports the human rights and moral authority of women to decide for themselves, with the guidance of their God, family and physician, “whether, when, and how many children to bear.” For the Bible believers among us, let me paraphrase 1 John 4:20: “Those who say, ‘I love the fetus,’ and hate or ignore the voice of the woman, are liars; for those who do not love and respect a woman whom they have seen, cannot love the fetus whom they have not seen.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the House author of H.R. 3, stated at his press conference Wednesday, “No taxpayer should be coerced to pay, subsidize or facilitate the dismemberment, chemical poisoning, starvation or suctioning to death of a child and the harming of a woman.” I just might believe him if his bill also defunded the Pentagon budget, which is directly responsible for the deaths of women and children around the world. But he doesn’t really mean it. He is only concerned with using fetuses to control women’s bodies. He cares not for living, breathing, walking and talking children and their mothers who are struggling to make ends meet. For them, he and his Republican colleagues have voted to cut funds to Head Start, school lunch programs, Section 8 housing, food stamps, Medicaid and education. Happy Mother’s Day!