New Attacks on Women's Rights
Published: May 9, 2011
With the help of 16 Democrats, House Republicans passed a bill the other day with the narrow-seeming title of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act
The measure, which came just weeks after the furor over failed Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, is a slightly modified version of a terrible bill proposed last year by Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican of New Jersey. It is far more sweeping than its title suggests.
In fact, the bill is not really about federal financing for abortion or even preventing insurers from offering any abortion coverage on the insurance exchanges created as part of federal health care reform. The federal Hyde Amendment has long barred federal financing of abortion, and the burdensome rules for segregating an individual's premium payments from government subsidies already seems destined to discourage insurers from offering abortion coverage on the exchanges.
The Smith bill imposes new limitations on abortion access by driving to end abortion insurance coverage in the private market using the nation's tax system as a weapon. A provision would deny tax credits to small businesses that offer private health plans that cover abortion services, as some 87 percent of private plans now do. The bill imposes no such restrictions on large corporations.
The measure also eliminates the medical-expense deduction for most abortions and ends the availability of reimbursement for abortion costs from medical savings accounts — changes that could invite intrusive inquiries from I.R.S. auditors trying to confirm whether an abortion procedure fell within exceptions for rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered.
Over all, the bill treats tax benefits as the equivalent of public expenditures for abortion. This equivalency is at odds with a reality in which individuals can deduct donations to religious institutions without running afoul of the constitutional bar of government support of religion.
Beyond the insurance realm, the Smith bill would permanently extend the prohibition on the District of Columbia from using locally raised revenue to provide abortion care that was imposed through fiscal 2011 as part of the budget compromise struck last month. The bill also would eliminate the yearly renewal of the Hyde Amendment's denial of abortion services for poor women and others who rely on the federal government for their health care.
The administration has signaled it would veto the Smith bill. It should be on guard for attempts to sneak parts of it into the debt limit talks.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on May 10, 2011, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: New Attacks on Women's Rights: The House passes a sweeping bill to deny access to abortion.