By Emily Rooke-Ley
AFJ Outreach Intern
Just over two weeks ago on the morning on Jan. 15, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing and mark-up on the latest piece of legislation that aims to deny women access to abortion. Just before the hearing, legislators concerned with women’s access to comprehensive health care held a press conference outside of the committee room. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus said: “Women are sick and tired of these constant attacks on our constitutionally-protected right to choose, while priorities like equal pay, fair wages and paid family leave go unaddressed.”
The so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” (HR 7) sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., would eliminate all federal funding for abortion services. The Hyde Amendment, first enacted in 1977 and reenacted as a rider every year, has already done just that by prohibiting federal Medicaid funding for abortion. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., insisted during Wednesday’s hearing that the bill be called what it really is: a government intrusion that will effectively eliminate health insurance plans that provide abortion coverage.
According to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, HR 7 will ban abortion coverage in private insurance plans (37 million women of reproductive age are covered by private plans), raise taxes on families choosing private insurance plans that include abortion coverage, and raise taxes on small businesses if they offer their employees insurance plans that include abortion coverage. It will do so with only the limited exceptions for some cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother.
The earliest version of what is now HR 7 allowed exceptions only for “forcible” rape. Another version required the IRS to audit rape victims who claimed a medical expense deduction for abortion to ensure that she was not committing fraud. Although the final version of the bill dropped such language, its provisions on abortion have not been changed and the bill would, in fact, go further than Hyde ever did.
Congresswomen and pro-choice activists crowded the hallway holding signs reading “Where are the women?” This refers to the absence of women in the drafting, debate, and mark-up of the bill. HR7 was drafted by Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J., the initial House subcommittee was comprised of 12 men, and the full committee includes 35 men and only five women.
Many of those attending the press conference and bill mark-up represented organizations in partnership with the All Above All pro-choice coalition, which includes Alliance for Justice. The coalition strongly opposes this legislation, which severely limits access to women’s constitutionally-protected right to safe and legal abortion. The full video of the hearing and mark-up is available here.
Fewer than two weeks after the committee hearing and on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address, the House voted to pass HR 7. Despite some changes in language—such as the removal of the “rape audit” portion—the bill would still be detrimental to women and families if signed into law. Fortunately, it has little chance of passing in the Senate, and President Obama has already said he plans to veto the bill if necessary.
The Pro-Choice Caucus convened Wednesday morning for a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, expressing their members’ disappointment in the House passage of HR 7. As we reflect on the 41 years that have passed since Roe v. Wade, we must recognize that it is more important now than ever before to be vigilant, to speak out, and to stand up against the relentless attacks on women’s reproductive rights.