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War Against Women

Proposed laws from Republicans would have dire consequences for women’s health

February 9, 2011, 1:00 am
By Lauren Kelley and Sarah Seltzer

Republicans sure have interesting priorities. Even though they got elected on a fiscal agenda and arrived in legislatures and Congress with a budget crisis and a nation staring down unemployment, they’ve decided to put policing women’s bodies on the top of their agenda.

You’ve probably heard about the unbelievably dismal new “HR3” bill—it’s cruel and draconian, to say the least. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smit, R-NJ, the bill is referred to as “Stupak on Steroids” by Naral Pro-Choice America. If implemented (which it likely will not be), it would further strip abortion funding by denying subsidies to all insurers who cover abortion—and making it difficult for people using their health savings accounts to pay for the procedure—thereby doing all the damage projected from the Stupak amendment and more. Even more galling, the bill initially contained language that would redefine rape exceptions for federal funding as only applicable to “forcible” rape, leaving most instances of sexual assault in a gray area when it comes to abortion funding. As Nick Baumann, who first reported the story in Mother Jones, notes:

“This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion…Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes…”

As Baumann’s examples demonstrate, even if the use of the term “forcible” was accidental in intention or not really meant to be codified into law, the language was dangerous just in its vagueness and openness to interpretation. Prominent feminist bloggers, including Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown and Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, launched a #DearJohn Twitter campaign to protest the entire bill (the “John” in question being Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner), while launched a petition specifically targeting the rape language, which garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Anti-abortion activists marched to the Santa Fe Roundhouse on Jan. 19 (left). Pro-choice advocates and lawmakers assembled in the same location on Jan. 25 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

In addition, several congresspeople have stepped to the fore to explain that even though the bill has little chance, it’s horribly pernicious. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., spoke emphatically against this bill, saying, “I consider the proposal of this bill a violent act against women” and adding that it’s an example of the encroaching power of the radical right-wing agenda against women, and the immediate social priorities of Republicans who were elected on a platform of fiscal austerity but carried with them an extreme right-wing set of social beliefs. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY, tweeted about her outrage against “the Republican House’s extreme attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive care,” adding, “We will stop these bills in the Senate.”

Eventually, the bill’s sponsors caved on the “forcible rape” language. “The word ‘forcible’ will be replaced with the original language from the Hyde Amendment,” Jeff Sagnip, spokesman for Rep. Smith, told Politico.

But the bill is still extraordinarily troubling. Both the funding and rape provisions in the bill represent an incursion into previously neutral territory. For several decades, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from going to abortions, has been a settled no-go zone between abortion rights advocates and abortion foes. And during that time, rape and incest and threats to the health of mother or to the fetus have been settled exceptions to the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding going to abortion, resulting in fewer than 200 medicare-funded abortions in 2006, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And so the straw-man issue of “federally funded abortions” is practically a non-issue to begin with.

As Marissa Padilla, spokeswoman for US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, points out, federal funding for abortion “is already against the law. It has been against the law. It continues to be against the law.”
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