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All-Male Congressional Committee Considers Imposing Far-Reaching Abortion Restrictions

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"All-Male Congressional Committee Considers Imposing Far-Reaching Abortion Restrictions"

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CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

On Thursday morning, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on HR 7, the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act.” That subcommittee, which is headed up by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and comprised of 12 other male lawmakers, is deciding whether to advance sweeping restrictions on abortion coverage that would make the procedure less affordable for women across the country.

Abortion opponents are relentless in their efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars don’t end up financing abortion services. But HR 7 is actually deceptively titled. Under the guise of preventing federal money from covering abortion, it would actually have dramatic consequences for the insurance industry and the tax code as a whole, potentially creating a society in which private insurance no longer includes abortion care.

“This bill is a sweeping piece of legislation that would affect nearly all women in this country and would do significant harm to many, especially those women and families who are struggling to make ends meet,” Susan Woods, an associate professor of health policy at George Washington University, explained in her testimony against HR 7 on Thursday.

In addition to banning insurance coverage for abortion in all of Obamacare’s new state-level insurance marketplaces, HR 7 would also reach into Americans’ private insurance plans. It would force small businesses to pay additional taxes on their health benefits if they offer their employees a plan that covers abortion. It would also eliminate medical-expense deductions for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment — an update to the tax code that the IRS would be forced to figure out how to implement. NARAL Pro-Choice America points out that the IRS would be empowered to make the final decision about what “counts” as rape or incest, essentially conducting an audit of victims to ensure they’re not committing fraud.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Wood explained that these regulatory changes could end up dramatically reshaping the entire private insurance market. “The status quo is that abortion has been regularly covered — not called out, not controversial — as part of general medical coverage in private health insurance,” she noted. “HR 7 could really change the nature of the insurance market such that ultimately it becomes the norm not to cover abortion.”

Without insurance coverage for the procedure, an abortion can cost anywhere between $300 and $10,000 out of pocket. Particularly because abortions are increasingly concentrated among low-income Americans, economic barriers to the procedure are a serious threat to access. The situation is especially dire now that a mounting pile of state-level restrictions have driven up the cost of getting an abortion even further.

And ultimately, Wood told ThinkProgress, there’s simply no reason to segregate abortion from the rest of medical care that’s covered by insurance companies. “It’s not an a la carte system,” she noted, pointing out that insurance coverage is supposed to be available for a range of unanticipated needs — including unintended pregnancies.

Many of the lawmakers who serve on the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice aren’t strangers to efforts to broadly restrict reproductive rights. Committee leader Franks co-sponsored the 20-week abortion ban that passed the House last fall, and has made it his personal mission to prevent the low-income women who live in the District of Columbia from being able to access abortion. Arguing in favor of Franks’ abortion ban, another subcommittee member, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), once suggested that women should simply be forced to give birth to fetuses with no brain function if they discover this type of serious fetal abnormality after the 20-week deadline.

Nonetheless, not every lawmaker on the subcommittee expressed support for HR 7 during Thursday’s hearing. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) delivered a passionate speech against his colleagues’ repeated efforts to attack reproductive freedom, noting that the proposed bill represents “the massive power of the federal government” to “shut down a constitutionally protected right.” Deutch argued that bodily autonomy is part of a larger set of policies — like pay fairness, affordable child care, and paid sick leave — that are necessary for women to achieve equality.

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