Chipping away abortion rights

Abortion-rights supporters breathed a sigh of relief last week when a troubling word was removed from a controversial antiabortion bill. They shouldn’t have. This piece of congressional legislation and a related bill are still loaded with harmful provisions that would turn back the clock on women’s rights to make their own medical decisions.

Abortion: A Feb. 9 editorial about a proposed antiabortion bill in Congress said that some Roman Catholic hospitals object to abortion. In fact, all Catholic hospitals object to abortion. —

Both bills initially sent waves of outrage rippling through abortion-rights circles by imposing new restrictions on abortion coverage, with exemptions for rape only when it is “forcible.” The possible effect of the language was unclear, but the understandable concern was that women who had been victims of date rape or statutory rape, as well as women who had been drugged or who were mentally incompetent, would be left unprotected.

The offending word was deleted from the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, carried by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.); it has not yet been erased from the Protect Life Act, although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) has agreed to do so. Both bills remain offensive nonetheless.

Pitts’ bill would allow hospitals that object to abortion (as some Catholic ones do, for instance) to make the appalling decision to withhold the procedure even in dire emergencies when it is necessary to save a woman’s life — a car accident, say, or a shooting. It also includes an objectionable provision — one that failed to become part of the healthcare reform law passed last year — that would prohibit federal funds from being used toward the purchase of any health insurance that includes abortion coverage. Current law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion but allows insurance companies to segregate federal money from private funds used for abortion.


Smith’s bill would go even further. Women would no longer be able to use their tax-saver accounts to pay for abortions because, in Smith’s view, this would constitute a federal subsidy; nor could families with high health insurance expenses deduct those expenses from their taxes if the insurance they buy with their own money includes coverage for abortion — even if they never use the coverage to pay for one. Small businesses, though not large corporations, could no longer deduct the cost of their employee insurance plans if they cover abortion, as 87% of health plans now do.

Abortion is a legally protected medical procedure. And though the federal government can legitimately limit what it will pay for in the way of healthcare for budgetary reasons, congressional opposition to abortion has nothing to do with its cost; the procedure is less expensive than carrying a pregnancy to term. Congress should not rewrite tax law so as to interfere with private and personal health insurance decisions made by patients, their employers and insurance companies.