Even with a persistent gender gap in a presidential election year, House Republicans have not given up on their campaign to narrow access to birth control, abortion care and lifesaving cancer screenings. Far from it.
A new Republican spending proposal revives some of the more extreme attacks on women’s health and freedom that were blocked by the Senate earlier in this Congress. The resurrection is part of an alarming national crusade that goes beyond abortion rights and strikes broadly at women’s health in general.
These setbacks are recycled from the Congressional trash bin in the fiscal 2013 spending bill for federal health, labor and education programs approved by a House appropriations subcommittee on July 18 over loud objections from Democratic members to these and other provisions.
The measure would bar Planned Parenthood’s network of clinics, which serve millions of women across the country, from receiving any federal money unless the health group agreed to no longer offer abortion services for which it uses no federal dollars — a patently unconstitutional provision. It would also eliminate financing for Title X, the effective federal family-planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for sexually-transmitted diseases. Without this program, some women would die, and unintended pregnancies would rise, resulting in some 400,000 more abortions a year and increases in Medicaid-related costs, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health.
On top of that, the bill would prevent implementation of most of the Affordable Care Act, wiping out its numerous advances for women’s health. It would seriously weaken the requirement that employee insurance plans cover birth control and other preventive health services by allowing any employer to opt out based on personal religious beliefs or moral objections.
Pushed by the subcommittee’s chairman, Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican, the budget plan stands little chance of being passed in its current form. Congress is about to leave on its August break, and, without explanation, the full Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the bill has been postponed indefinitely. It may be that Speaker John Boehner wants to avoid a controversy heading toward November that shifts focus from the economy.
Even so, the subcommittee’s anti-woman work product is a statement of Republican policy. It is endorsed by the full committee chairman, Harold Rogers, and will be a starting point for negotiations on a budget deal with the Senate. Furthermore, when Congress puts forth bad ideas to curtail birth control and abortion access, they tend to spread, helping to inspire copycat bills in the states. Since House Republicans first tried to defund Planned Parenthood, for example, similar attacks have been enacted in six states, most recently in North Carolina earlier this month.
There is a striking overlap between the subcommittee’s regressive politics and the policies espoused by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That makes it a window on what a Romney presidency could mean for women’s rights and lives.
This editorial can be viewed at The New York Times.