Last week, the House of Representatives did something pretty special—it passed a bill. It has already been diagnosed with a fatal flaw, however, because President Obama almost immediately stated that he would veto the bill if it ever comes across his desk. What is this intriguing bit of proposed legislation? H.R. 7, the No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act.
The Act has two principal parts. Title I makes permanent the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, which first prohibited the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. But the Act would do more than just make permanent the existing federal policy. Rather, Title II of the Act considers federal funding for abortions in the context of the Affordable Care Act. Title II would amend the ACA to disqualify from receiving a tax credit for buying health insurance on the health insurance marketplace anyone who wishes to purchase a health insurance plan that provides coverage for abortion.
There has been much discussion in the media in recent weeks about the importance of the tax credit for individuals who are now required to get health insurance coverage under the ACA. Under the ACA after the Supreme Court decision, individual states have the option to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid eligibility to include greater amounts of low-income adults. If states do not accept the Medicaid expansion program, however, there is a coverage gap between those who qualify for Medicaid under state rules (because they earn up to a median of 47 percent of the federal poverty line) and those who earn enough to qualify for the federal tax credit (because their income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line).
That is, there are whole groups of people who just are not poor enough to get healthcare.
As a result, health navigators are scrambling to find ways to help individuals teetering on the edge of the federal poverty line earn enough money to qualify for the federal tax subsidy. For example, a healthcare navigator working in the mountains of North Carolina is encouraging the people she works with to take on a couple extra shifts or to sell the fruits and vegetables from their home garden in order to inch over the federal poverty line and qualify for the subsidy.
This scramble to find extra sources of income in states that have not agreed to the Medicaid expansion program would result in economically disparate effects of H.R. 7. If the proposed legislation became law, individuals who needed the federal tax subsidy in order to be able to afford health insurance coverage under the ACA effectively would be forced to abdicate their right to choose to have an abortion. Naturally, this is exactly what the bill’s proponents want.
But the reality remains that Roe v. Wade has not been overruled, and women still have the right to chose when and whether they have children, up to the point of the viability of the fetus outside of the mother’s womb. Moreover, if the advocates of the bill were so focused on promoting good family values, the Act would actually be counterproductive. If these legislators have a vested interest in providing children with safe and nurturing homes where two loving parents invest all the necessary energy into parenting to produce mature and competent members of society, then forcing women already struggling financially to bear another child compromises that ideal.
Finally, we must ask why the House Republicans are so obsessed with women’s health. In a Congress that is infamous for its unproductivity, it is quite incredible that the House has managed to pass another anti-abortion bill, after it already passed a 20-week abortion bill in June. Although women have made huge strides in representation in Congress in the last couple of elections, there are still only 81 women in the House: 62 Democrats and 19 Republicans. This means that a predominantly male body is obsessed with regulating women’s reproduction. This is hardly a new phenomenon, of course. (Consider the 19th century gender norms that confined women to the pedestal of motherhood, and simultaneously praised and mandated that women be mothers and wives exclusively.)
But this is 2014. Employers can be liable for sex discrimination now if they make significant employment decisions based on a woman being a woman, and human resources departments beg executives to never ever put their sexist prejudices on paper. If we have truly accepted that women no longer need a dashing white knight to rescue them from their own feminine instability, then the male House Republicans need to stop passing bills they know President Obama will veto.
Congress needs to focus on the larger picture of a country struggling to cope with the pressures of a changing world and pass immigration reform, job creating measures and ensure that we will be safe from another government shutdown. Leave the symbolic legislation for when there’s nothing else to do.
Joline Doedens is a second-year law student. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Send Joline a message @jydoedens.