Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Than Abortion

What happens to the bargaining rights of workers in Wisconsin over the next few weeks will go far toward determining what happens to the labor movement, therefore the middle class, in the United States over many years, perhaps decades.

What is transpiring in the United States Congress pertaining to reproductive rights will not have the same implications for the rights of women in the U.S.A. Still, if the framework for determining the future of the middle class were not being laid in the midwest, far more attention would be focused on this crucial battle being played out in Congress. The Hill summarizes

Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that would bar the healthcare reform law from funding abortions and expand “conscience protections” to healthcare workers and entities that object to abortion care on religious or moral grounds. Another bill from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) would set wider abortion restrictions, including a ban on tax breaks for private health plans that cover abortion.

The bill sponsored by Representative Smith, euphemistically labeled the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" (there currently is no taxpayer funding for abortion), originally contained the noxious provision redefining rape. That proved to be not only unpopular, but also opened the proposal to far more scrutiny by the national media. And even Republican voters tend to recoil at the idea of taking sexual assault lightly. Nonetheless, the bill would codify the Hyde Amendment, rendering unnecessary annual congressional action to deny Medicare and Medicaid funding for abortions, as well as federal funding for members of the military and veterans. (When fanaticism strikes, our troops, otherwise beloved, are not spared.). It also would extend the reach of Hyde because, as explained by David Waldman blogging on Daily Kos,

under their definition of "taxpayer funding for abortion" all tax deductions, credits or other benefits for the cost of health insurance, when that insurance includes under its plan coverage for abortion.

So if a company provides health care benefits for its employees, and the plan they pay for includes coverage for abortion, the company becomes ineligible for the normal federal tax deductions and credits that are the usual reward for providing benefits. That's a gigantic tax increase. If you pay for your own coverage directly, no deductions, credits, etc. for you, either, if the plan you select offers abortion coverage. Whether you or someone on your plan ever gets one or not. All deductions associated with your health care costs are disallowed.

That, apparently, will impact approximately 87 percent of private insurance plans on the market today.

Evan McMorris-Santoro explains arguably the most radical provision of the Pitts-Lipinski attack on reproductive freedom:

A bit of backstory: currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA -- but they do have to stabilize them and provide them with emergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can't provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.

In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. (The nature of how that procedure works exactly is up in the air, with the ACLU calling on the federal government to state clearly that unwillingness to perform an abortion doesn't qualify as inability under EMTALA. That argument is ongoing, and the government has yet to weigh in.)

Pitts' new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren't willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn't have to -- nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

This Crooks and Liars blogger believes defunding has become the tactic of choice of anti-abortion rights legislators in their goal of a de facto reversal of Roe v. Wade. (Such activists have long understood that the American people support that court decision, and a frontal attack would be self-defeating.) Thus, another initiative challenging a woman's reproductive rights, and the eloquent rebuke (video immediately below) of Representative Smith by Democrat Jackie Speier of California (standing in front of pro-choice New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone):

The Smith-Speier disagreement came in response to Continuing Resolution H.R. 1, which would extend funding for federal agencies from March 4 through September 30, necessitated by congressional failure to pass a budget last year. H.R. 1 denies federal funds to any reproductive health organization or facility that provides abortion; its Pence (R-Ind) Amendment specifically denies any money to Planned Parenthood. The organization notes "In fiscal year 2010, Congress appropriated approximately $317 million for family planning activities supported under Title X, 90 percent of which was used for clinical family planning services, according to the OPA (Office of Population Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)."

According to a Planned Parenthood report described by Media Matters, in 2008-2009 the doctors and nurses of the organization and its affiliates provided contraceptives to 36%, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections to 31 percent, cancer screening and prevention to 17 percent, and abortion services to three percent, of its clients. Revenue from abortion services was less than 15% of Planned Parenthood's total revenue during that period while, pursuant to federal regulations, no federal funds were used for abortion. None.

Chris Smith, at least, has a long and manic opposition to abortion, which has been an obsession with him. And no doubt many of the U.S. Representatives lined up in opposition to women's health are committed and well-meaning opponents of abortion rights. But the effort to curtail reproductive rights and to destroy an organization dedicated primarily to the health of women suggests that the interests of the "pro-life" legislators go far beyond reduction of abortion. Perhaps the overheated assault is motivated in part by something so obvious it has escaped attention. Planned Parenthood- planned parenthood- is a concept itself offensive to much of this crowd.

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