May 9, 2011
On Wednesday May 4th, the H.R. 3 Bill—“an act to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions and to provide for conscience protections, and for other purposes”—was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives by a 251-175 vote.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act not only prohibits federally-funded abortions, and as such, taxpayer funded abortions, but it also “eliminates… certain tax benefits relating to abortion,” disallows the “deduction of medical expenses… for abortions,” “disallow[s] refundable credit for coverage under qualified health plans which provide coverage for abortion,” “disallow[s]… small employer health insurance expense credit… which includes coverage for abortion,” and require[s] “distributions for abortion expenses from certain accounts and arrangements included in gross income.”
In essence, the Act aims to enact the following limitations:
- It restricts the availability of abortions for all women by eliminating federal subsidization of health care plans that include abortion at all, regardless of whether the funding goes towards abortion specifically.
- It defines certain medical related tax-breaks given to businesses and insurance companies as “federal funding,” thereby ripping this financial support from entities that would like to provide health care plans that include abortion. This may deter these companies from offering insurance policies to their employees/clients with abortion care covered.
- It allows for federal funding of abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life-threatening conditions, but not in cases of statutory rape, incest among adults, or damaging illness (which, under current law, could possibly be funded).
- Those who receive a funded abortion must prove to the IRS that they were in fact victims of assault or disease/disorder during a tax audit process.
- It provides extensive protections for health care services, such as hospitals and insurance companies, which refuse to provide for abortions.
- While states still reserve the right to subsidize abortions outside of federal funding, the District of Columbia is left with no way to finance abortions that do not fall under the acceptable guidelines of the Act.
The H.R.3. Bill is a violent attack against female reproductive rights and a clear attempt to permanently reinforce the annually renewable Hyde Amendment of 1976 that prohibits federally funded abortion through Medicaid, yet allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment to the mother’s health. While thirty-two states fund only the ‘types’ of abortions the Hyde Amendment requires, seventeen do not restrict their own state funding of abortion by discriminatory categorization. One state, South Dakota, restricts beyond the stipulations of the Hyde Amendment, only allowing “federal” dollars to contribute to abortions in cases where a pregnancy is life-threatening. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act takes this amendment a step further, requiring survivors of incest, rape, or potentially fatal conditions that have received government sponsored abortions to prove their assault to the IRS.
While in some eyes it might seem reasonable to restrict taxpayer funding of abortions for various personal or moral reasons, this is a specious argument in favor of an insidious bill. According to the ACLU, relative to the costs of supporting maternity care and childcare, essentially no taxpayer money goes towards funding abortions. Subsequently, H.R. 3 does not seem like an attempt to protect taxpayers from paying for a service that they deem unethical—they are already protected—but an effort to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Additionally, taxpayer money frequently contributes to programs like the military or capital punishment that, though they might incite ethical or religious opposition from certain populations, are deemed as necessary for the government in protecting and fostering its people. Abortion may be seen as one of these indispensable protections. Besides the obvious cases, where abortion might be necessary to preserve the mental or physical health of a pregnant woman, the ability to access abortion has become an issue of social justice and equality; through the right to choose, women are given the ability to make their own medical decisions as well as agency over their bodies. The right to choose without fear of financial cost or penalty then falls under the United States’ role as a protector and equalizer of its people.
In addition to enforcing the long-term broad barring of federally funded abortions, with little exception, the Act also disallows the funding of health benefits that include the “coverage of abortion” by funds “authorized or appropriated by Federal law.” No federally owned or operated health care establishments may perform abortions, and no federal employee may provide abortion “within the scope of the physician or individual’s employment.” Luckily, in a small moment of reason, the Act allows for the federally funded treatment of “any infection, injury, disease, or disorder” caused or heightened by abortion without discrimination as to where and how the abortion was obtained (i.e. even if somehow sponsored by federal funding).
The restriction of funding and various financial offsets for the cost of abortion continues beyond a procedure in the operating room; Under the new bill, the government will no longer provide refundable credit for health plans that provide coverage for abortion as of December 31, 2013. While, under the Act, individuals are allowed to purchase separate coverage that does include abortions (and, it should be noted, are often too expensive for those who need federally funded abortion the most), “no credit is allowed… with respect to the premiums for such coverage or plan.” Small employers will no longer receive expense credit for providing health plans that include abortion coverage, which may reduce the availability of health plans that include abortion at all, or at minimum the number of employers that will choose an inevitably more expensive option. This is de facto class discrimination against American’s who cannot afford the highest echelons of health care.
Perhaps an even more disturbing aspect of H.R.3. is the treatment of victims of sexual abuse and disease or disorder. Victims of rape, incest, and those whose lives are in direct danger due to pregnancy are able to receive funded abortions. However, these women that receive federally funded abortions must prove their cases to the Internal Revenue Service. Essentially, women who receive abortions with assistance from the government will be forced to verify that their respective reasons for a funded abortion met the governmental criteria. These women must relive their own experiences of rape, harassment, or extreme illness, as well as the often complex decision of whether to abort, as the IRS faces them with a stressful audit. Although the IRS may not explicitly blame the victim, the implication is clear. The U.S.’s chronic underreporting of assault also poses a problem to these proceedings. What happens to women who choose not to take legal action against their rapists or assailants? Or, possibly more pertinent to college life, women whose assaulters are not formally punished or even necessarily found guilty of a crime? What proof is sufficient? While Marcus Owens, a former director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, has stated that the ideal proof would be “contemporaneous written documentation,” this detail of the bill could wrongly preclude women from receiving funding that under the Act’s guidelines should be provided to them.
While the Act itself does not currently redefine rape (though earlier versions specifically used the term “forcible rape” thereby leaving scores abortion-seeking victims of sexual abuse unable to receive financial assistance), the committee report on the bill categorizes incidents into a hierarchy of harms by distinctly prohibiting the federal funding of abortions in cases of statutory rape or incest if the individual is not a minor. Though the committee report is not the law itself, it accompanies the law as an outline of legislative intention. It is definitively the spirit of the law, and may very well be deferred to in judicial cases aiming to establish precedent for the application of the Act.
Although the bill will more than likely not pass through the Senate nor receive the ratification of the President (the White House has stated that the bill is an unnecessary intrusion on the reproductive rights of women as well as the “private insurance choices that consumers have today”), H.R. 3 represents a dangerous trend towards the systematic elimination of women’s rights through the politicizing of health care.
Demetra Hufnagel is a sophomore in Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.