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Outside editorial: An attack on women

Posted: February 9, 2011 - 4:58am

The following editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act” introduced Jan. 20 in the U.S. House of Representatives is a broad attack on women’s reproductive health care. The talk for the last couple of days has been the bill’s supposed attempt to redefine rape — limiting a “rape” exemption to “forcible rape” — but the potential harm to women is larger.

The bill would prevent the use of taxpayer funds for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest involving a minor or the risk of death for the mother. The 35-year-old Hyde Amendment already prevents the use of taxpayer funding for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or risk of death to the mother, but it must be renewed every year. The new bill would make such exclusions permanent. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans support restrictions on federal funding of abortions.

On Thursday, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., dropped the “forcible rape” language, agreeing to substitute the Hyde Amendment language. That’s a positive development, especially because there is no statutory definition of “forcible rape” in federal criminal code. Rape is rape.

But the bill’s other problems haven’t been addressed.

The bill would prohibit the use of tax-exempt money, including health savings accounts, from paying for abortions or insurance plans that include abortion coverage. The bill is written so broadly that some abortion-rights advocates claim it would end insurance coverage for abortions altogether.

The burden would fall most heavily on low-income women. Forty-two percent of women who have an abortion have incomes below the federal poverty level — less than $11,000 for a single woman with no children. They are less likely to have private health insurance or the available cash to pay for an abortion.

Worse, the bill reintroduces the so-called Hyde-Weldon “conscience clause,” which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against medical providers for refusing to perform abortions or refusing to refer patients to other abortion providers, or even to provide abortion medication.

Under some interpretations, the conscience clause might even protect medical personnel who refuse to provide the morning-after pill, a high-dose hormonal contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy if taken within a couple of days of unprotected sex.

Research from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes sexual and reproductive health causes, and the World Health Organization has shown that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is illegal as where it is legal.

Abortion opponents can’t have it both ways. They can’t restrict access to contraceptives, sex education and family planning and also claim to be against abortion.

We have long supported a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. When to become a parent is a personal and private decision between a woman and her partner. We agree that abortion should be legal, safe and rare.

Birth control and family planning are the keys to making abortion rare, and they should be covered under the health care reform bill passed last year. The Obama administration has asked the Institute of Medicine to identify preventive services for women that must be covered at no cost under the reform bill.

Those services must include contraceptives and family planning services.

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