H.R. 7–Or, How Congress Still Doesn’t Get Women

Recently, the GOP decided that their candidates really needed to learn to talk to, and about, women.

This was actually a pretty reasonable assessment.  Women are a significant part of the margin of victory for Democrats, and this fact has finally been brought to the attention of the Republicans.  As a result, they actually hired someone to teach their candidates how to talk about women and women’s issues without coming across as out-of-touch misogynists.  It’s not actually working yet-~-just last week possible GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee stated that women need to “control their libido or reproductive systems” without the government’s help, proving once again that he really doesn’t understand this issue, or women (or biology) at all.

I bring this up because I think it provides an interesting context for the passage of H.R. 7 by the House of Representatives earlier this week.  H.R. 7-~-or the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Bill”-~-is pointless at best but offensive and detrimental at worst, and it’s what I really want to talk about here.

First, it’s probably worth mentioning that TAXPAYER FUNDING CURRENTLY DOES NOT GO TO ABORTION.  Hyde Amendments have prevented taxpayer dollars from going to abortion funding for decades now.  Every time someone starts to talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they ignore the fact that Medicare reimbursements already do not cover abortion procedures.  This means that creating a special bill to make sure that abortions are not covered by tax dollars seems redundant and kind of like Congress is wasting all of our time.

So if there’s already no taxpayer funding for abortion…what on earth does this bill do?

For starters, the bill would cause anyone who was eligible for an insurance subsidy under the Affordable Care Act to purchase insurance plans which cover abortions.  If enacted into law, the bill could also prompt insurance companies to stop paying for abortion altogether, as companies are unlikely to offer policies which women would be unable to purchase, even with their own money.  The bill would eliminate this abortion coverage even in cases of danger to the mother’s health or life, which would simply result in elevated maternal mortality deaths.

But that’s not the end of it.

The Republicans did have the good sense to include an exception for victims of rape or incest, which are among the most commonly accepted (read: codified into international law because basically everyone accepts them) exceptions to abortion bans.  Unfortunately, they included a provision that would require an audit of the survivor to confirm that she actually was raped, a process that would likely prove incredibly traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault who would have to recount the events of their assault to convince the auditor they are telling the truth.  Not only does this simply presume women are lying when in fact false rape reports are pretty rare, this also exacerbates psychological harms caused by sexual assault.  Moreover, because the government has not always been consistent on what it considers rape-~-the Republican party, in particular, had been pushing for definitions focused on “forcible rape”-~-this could also prove problematic.

The GOOD news is that this bill almost certainly won’t pass in the Senate, and Obama has already promised to veto it should it make it to his desk.  Which begs the question: why should we bother being upset that the House passed this bill, if it’s never going to become a law?

For one thing, there’s the fact that this indicates that the Republican Party plans to continue its assault on women’s rights and their ability to access healthcare.  With the recent court decision regarding the Little Sisters of the Poor (in which the courts ruled that religious-affiliated groups could opt out of providing coverage from birth control, which they actually were already allowed to do they just had to submit a form so that third-party health coverage could be used to access contraception), it’s obvious that sexual and reproductive health aren’t going to be off the agenda anytime soon.  It’s frustrating that in 2014, with attention already turning to the upcoming 2016 presidential race, and with 70% of the country in favor of leaving abortion legal, the GOP doesn’t seem at all interested in making it possible for women to make their own choices about their bodies.

Second, though, is the fact that bills like H.R. 7 are designed in ways which disproportionately harm poor women, who are the most likely to be impacted by Medicare and the ACA tax credits.  This means that while wealthier women who would be able to purchase insurance covering abortions on their own or through their jobs might still be able to access abortion (provided that insurance companies continue to offer such plans), poorer women would not be able to do so.  This is particularly problematic, given the GOP’s objections to providing contraception or comprehensive sexual education to women who otherwise would not be able to afford it, and have also proposed possibly cutting benefits to women who have children out of wedlock-~-again, disproportionately targeting poor women and damaging not only them but their children with regards to health, well-being, and the ability to ever get out of poverty.

But third, this indicates that the Republicans still prioritize making a statement about their beliefs regarding women’s rights over actually governing.  Holding a vote on a bill that will never become a law, when there are other bills that actually could become laws and would meaningfully impact people’s lives, is downright irresponsible.  And at the end of the day, all this says is that the Republicans have in fact decided what they want to say to women…and it’s not a message that’s likely to get them much good will.

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~ by Randi Saunders on January 31, 2014.

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