The House plans to vote on its anti-abortion bill, HR 3, this week, which would effectively end all insurance coverage of abortion-related services. The White House has threatened to veto the bill.
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3 because it: intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care; increases the tax burden on many Americans; unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that consumers have today; and restricts the District of Columbia’s use of local funds, which undermines home rule. Longstanding Federal policy prohibits Federal funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered. This prohibition is maintained in the Affordable Care Act and reinforced through the President’s Executive Order 13535. H.R. 3 goes well beyond these safeguards by interfering with consumers’ private health care choices. The Administration also strongly supports existing provider conscience laws that have protected the rights of health care providers and entities for over 30 years, and it recognizes and supports the rights of patients. The Administration will strongly oppose legislation that unnecessarily restricts women’s reproductive freedoms and consumers’ private insurance options.
If the President is presented with H.R. 3, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
The Administration didn’t mention the most egregious part of the bill, though they captured most of it. Because of an outcry earlier in the year, House Republicans changed the language that would alter the definition of rape to only include so-called “forcible rape,” in an effort to limit the rape exemptions in the law where abortions are allowed. But Nick Baumann has discovered that House Republicans actually didn’t take out the language, or at least didn’t change the intent of the law:
But while they’ve amended their legislation, which faces a floor vote in the House on Wednesday, Republicans haven’t stopped trying to narrow the already small exception under which federal funding for abortions is permissible. They’ve used a sly legislative maneuver to make sure that even though the language of the bill is different, the effect remains the same.
The backdoor reintroduction of the statutory rape change relies on the use of a committee report, a document that congressional committees produce outlining what they intend a piece of legislation to do. If there’s ever a court fight about the interpretation of a law—and when it comes to a subject as contentious as abortion rights, there almost always is—judges will look to the committee report as evidence of congressional intent, and use it to decide what the law actually means.
In this case, the committee report for H.R. 3 says that the bill will “not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape.” The bill itself doesn’t say anything like that, but if a court decides that legislators intended to exclude statutory rape-related abortions from eligibility for Medicaid funding, then that will be the effect.
Republicans claim that current law under the Hyde Amendment dictates that statutory rape does not count as an exemption for abortion funding under Medicaid, but they appear to have made that distinction up completely.
This has been a longstanding fight from Republicans to chip away at the rape and incest exemptions in the law, much in the way that anti-choice activists try to chip away at all abortion policies. This bill isn’t going to pass Congress. But the fact that Republicans claimed to remove the most controversial part and then returned it to the bill is quite revealing.