Abortion Rights Under Attack

May 20, 2012by Leah Ringo

Filed under: Health Care, In the News, Legislative Process, Politics, Social Issues

In response to the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, an abundant amount of legislation on the topic of abortion has been presented  – mostly in part to a concern that government on any level could potentially fund abortions either directly or indirectly through state insurance exchanges (effective Jan. 2014).  A number of bills have been presented to states mandating that federal subsidies are restricted from covering elective abortions.  Some states include; Georgia,  Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Washington, Wisconsin, and  New Hampshire.  The reasoning – those who oppose abortion for religious reasons or otherwise see support for elective abortions as a violation of their conscience and First Amendment religious rights.

States that look to opt out of federally subsidized elective abortion coverage have some bi-partisan support, recognizing the significance of religious freedom and moral opposition.  As a compromise, a few states, like Michigan, are proposing an optional rider, giving women the option to purchase an add-on to their insurance plan that covers non-therapeutic abortions.  Opponents claim the rider still violates their conscience, stating that they want no participation with an insurance company that offers any abortion coverage, even if the additional rider is placed in a separate pool and used only to cover elective abortions.

The concern about federally funded abortions also brought attention to government funding given to organizations and clinics that provide abortion, prompting Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Alaska, Ohio (HB 298), and numerous other states to pass laws limiting any and all funds.  Planned Parenthood is an organization under the most scrutiny, however, the organization claims all government funds are allotted to STD testing, cancer screening, and birth control for low-income women.  Like the optional rider, some opponents wish to see all funding cut to these organizations simply because they perform abortion services.

The proposed bills and extent to limiting funding is slightly different from state to state, but the overall message is the same:  Republicans want limited association to abortion, cutting assistance to organizations that provide necessary healthcare to women. Even organizations that do not perform abortions are at risk of scrutiny or possible loss of state funding if there exists a professional association to a clinic that performs them.  It is a more extreme response, but bills like this have been presented in the state of Nebraska, as well as other states.

Women’s organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union view this kind of legislation as discrimination, stating, “…by singling out abortion for exclusion, politicians have attempted to impose their own choices on poor women.”   They also argue that most taxpayers contribute dollars to other issues that sometimes go against religious beliefs – like war or military service.  There is no way for taxpayers to opt out of those contributions, thus the focus on abortion seems to be nothing more than an attempt to force low-income women to carry a pregnancy to term.  Women who will participate in state exchanged healthcare and use organizations like Planned Parenthood are lower income.  To restrict funding for clinics that happen to provide abortion also limits access to birth control and STD testing – a real public health concern, and most likely costly.

Legislation on abortion doesn’t stop there though – Republicans also want to push through bills requiring abortion clinics to provide ultrasounds, waiting periods, and potential side effects on a woman’s health.  What’s so controversial about providing more information to pregnant women?  For one, it assumes that women are somehow uneducated on the topic of abortion and are incapable of coming to their own conclusions on what is best for their personal situation.   Providing medical information is not controversial, but the manner in which it is proposed -including a waiting period and an invasive ultrasound – can be interpreted as a-government-knows-best kind of scenario.  Research also suggests most women who choose abortion do not regret their decision and the need for additional government intervention gives the appearance of being a coercive strategy as opposed to a real public need.

One of the most controversial bills on abortion came up for debate in Kansas.  The House passed a lengthy document that would require a number of changes to abortion laws, including protecting doctors from malpractice if they opt to withhold pertinent medical information from a pregnant woman if such information could result in the decision to abort.  It would also require clinics to provide specific information on fetal development, in addition to preventing residents from performing abortion training in state funded settings.  Obviously this is very controversial, given that abortion is sometimes a medical necessity.  It goes on further to address tax credits and adding a sales tax to abortion– but again, the message is many Republican legislators want to make access to abortion difficult and even prohibit basic medical training.  The bill did not pass the Senate; however, the Governor of Kansas stated he would likely sign the bill if it had.

Abortion is an ongoing political and moral issue, but the current debate seems to be centered on protecting those opposed to abortion from playing an indirect role in its funding.  Freedom of religion is their main argument, but what role should religious views have in government, particularly in the case of abortion?  Should government create laws that coerce women to carry a pregnancy to term, particularly if those laws tend to represent a religious and moral point of view?  Should funding to these organizations that provide necessary health care for poor women be limited simply because they provides a (legal) but controversial family planning option?  Historical evidence suggests making abortion and birth control inaccessible is dangerous.  So how far is too far?



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