Population Matters

20 Week Abortion Ban? Not so Fast

January 22nd, 2015

This day in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court announced their ruling on the landmark case Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion nationwide. While Roe should have been the end of the fight, it was, unfortunately, just the beginning of a long drawn out war over women’s reproductive rights. Forty-two years later abortion opponents are still chipping away at women’s access to abortion, and, with the momentum provided by the election, they were prepared to seize the initiative.

In response to pleas from anti-abortion advocates, House leaders planned on bringing a proposed 20 week abortion ban to the House floor today, just one of six anti-abortion bills introduced in the first seven days of the new Congress.

But, suddenly, the political momentum has slowed.

The President earlier this week vowed to veto the 20 week ban if it were to reach his desk saying:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 36, which would unacceptably restrict women’s health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman’s right to choose. Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and Government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor.

But it turns out that President Obama is not alone in his opposition to the proposed 20 week ban. In what must have been a surprise to Speaker Boehner, there was dissent within the House Republican Conference. Some Republican women pulled support for the bill due to the limited nature of the rape exception. While the bill does allow for an exception to be made in the case of rape and incest, it requires that the rape or incest be reported to law enforcement before the woman attempts to access abortion care. This is problematic because according to the Department of Justice the majority of women who have been victims of rape do not report their rape to law enforcement.

Ultimately, the House leadership listened to the dissent and, temporarily at least, pulled the proposed abortion ban from floor consideration. It appears that House leaders may be beginning to understand the negative optics of going directly at abortion using narrow rape exceptions. I wish I could celebrate this as good news, but the House leadership could not let the anniversary of Roe v. Wade go by without some kind of attack on reproductive rights.

Instead of the 20-week ban, the House voted today on H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and it passed 242-179. This bill would prevent federal funding for abortion services for women in the military, civil servants, Peace Corps volunteers, women who live in Washington, DC, and women who have Medicaid coverage. The bill also codifies the Hyde amendment, which bans, with very limited exceptions, federal funding of abortion. The bill would also prevent private health insurance from covering abortion services if the plan received any subsidies or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act. The bill would apply tax penalties to any small business that purchases plans that cover abortion. In doing so, of course, the bill would eliminate abortion coverage for the poorest and most vulnerable women. The President has already issued a veto pledge saying:

The legislation would intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care; increase the financial burden on many Americans; unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have today; and restrict the District of Columbia’s use of local funds, which undermines home rule… The Administration strongly opposes legislation that unnecessarily restricts women’s reproductive freedoms and consumers’ private insurance options.

But the President’s veto power only goes so far. While the twenty week ban and HR7 have no chance of becoming law under President Obama, the state level assaults on reproductive rights continue, and abortion opponents have been successful in passing a growing number of abortion restrictions.

The Population Institute’s recent 50-state report card on reproductive health and rights awarded 15 states a failing grade (“F”). Many of these states, have cut funding for contraceptive services and approved targeted regulations of abortion providers (“trap”) laws that, in addition to curbing abortion access, have shut down family clinics providing contraceptive services. Several of these states have also blocked the proposed expansion of Medicaid under the president’s Affordable Care Act, which further reduces access to contraception.

The outcome of the 2014 election ensures that the state level assault on reproductive rights will continue unabated, and, as a result more family planning clinics will close this year and still more women will lose access to reproductive health services, including contraceptives services. That’s inevitable. But so is the political backlash. Stay tuned.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

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