Happy International Women’s Day: Read Three Bills Threatening Women’s Health

Many of these bills aren’t new, but they could each seriously impact women’s health in America.

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Mar 8 2017, 3:37pm

Republicans in Congress finally released their official plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act this week. And while there are some provisions in the plan which would specifically impact women's health, such as cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, it's just one of a handful of bills  introduced this year that could seriously threaten women's access to reproductive healthcare.

A number of the bills chip away at women's access to abortion, and many of them are not new, but the new administration and GOP-controlled congress mean lawmakers are doubling down on these changes, according to Megan Donovan, the senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization and advocacy group. 

"Absolutely, as a result of the 2016 elections, politicians at the state level as well as members of congress feel emboldened to continue pursuing an anti-abortion agenda," said Donovan. "We're confident that we still have advocates of women's reproductive health in the senate, and hopefully there's still a firewall protecting us from some of these more extreme measures. But we're really facing a new environment for the first time in a number of years at the federal level."

Here are three examples of these bills and how they could threaten women's access to health care:

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017 (H.R. 7)

This bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, a budget rider that Congress votes on every year to prohibit federal funds from paying for abortion (that means women in the military or on Medicaid cannot have their abortions covered).

That alone wouldn't make a huge impact, since the Hyde Amendment has passed every year since 1976, but this bill goes even further to block any federal subsidies for health care plans that cover abortion, including ACA plans, and prohibits abortions at any federally owned health care facilities. This would make it increasingly difficult for women, particularly lower income women, to get coverage for and access to abortion. This bill has already passed through the House (though similar bills have passed the house in the past, too) and is currently being considered by two subcommittees.

Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (H.B. 147) 

Donovan called this bill, introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a "wolf in sheep's clothing," because at first glance it seems reasonable. The bill seeks to ban race or sex-selective abortions, i.e. abortions sought solely due to the sex or race of the fetus. But Donovan explained that this kind of restriction is difficult to enforce, and would simply make it harder for women to get an abortion for any reason, particularly women of color and women seeking late-term abortions (who are past the point when you could reasonably test for the fetus's sex). "It would perpetuate further discrimination, stereotyping, and racial profiling of women of color because it would make their motivations for an abortion suspect," Donovan said. "It would really set us on a slippery slope of policing women's reasons for seeking an abortion." This bill has not yet been voted on by the House. It was referred to a subcommittee on constitution and civil justice.

Defunding Planned Parenthood 

There have been multiple bills introduced that attempt to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding, which means reimbursements for patients on Medicaid for reproductive care including Pap tests, STI test, and contraception. Since the Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funds from paying for abortion, these bills really only target all the other services Planned Parenthood provides. In the draft for the House Republican's replacement health care plan, the prohibitions border on blackmail, indicating that Planned Parenthood can continue to receive funding if it ends all its abortion services. This would disproportionately affect lower income women, since it means their Medicaid health insurance would no longer cover any services at Planned Parenthood, which is the primary point of care of millions of women.

There has been some effort to secure women's access to reproductive health care. The Republican draft preserves the essential health benefits established under the Affordable Care Act, which includes mandatory maternity care coverage, and state legislatures have been working to shore up women's access through bills that protect coverage for contraception and make it easier to get prescriptions for birth control. While some politicians feel emboldened to pursue anti-abortion agendas, it's pushing their opponents to double down as well.