The year 2011 marked a banner year in the Republican war on woman’s health. Close to 1,000 anti-abortion bills sped through state legislatures as the GOP-led House led a “comprehensive and radical assault” on a federal level. But in surveying their arsenal this year, 10 bills stood out as particularly perturbing and far-reaching efforts to stymie women’s access to abortion services, birth control, and vital health services like breast cancer screenings. Here are our nominations for the most extreme attacks on a woman’s right to choose:
- Redefining Rape: Last May, every House Republican and 16 anti-choice Democrats passed H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act. Anti-choice activists Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) tried to narrow the definition of rape to “forcible rape,” which meant that women who say no but do not physically fight off the assault; women who are drugged or verbally threatened and raped; and minors impregnated by adults would not qualify for the rape and incest exception in the Hyde Amendment. Smith promised to remove the language but used “a sly legislative maneuver” that essentially informs the courts that statutory rape cases will not be covered by Medicaid should the law pass and be challenged in court.
- Abortion Audits: The No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act also bans using tax credits or deductions to pay for abortions or insurance. Thus, a woman who used such a benefit would have to prove, if audited, that her abortion “fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.” This requirement turns the Internal Revenue Service into “abortion cops” who, agents noted, would have to force women to give “contemporaneous written documentation” that it was “incest, or rape, or [her] life was in danger” which made an abortion necessary.
- Let Women Die: This October, House Republicans also passed the “Protect Life Act”, known by women’s health advocates as the “Let Women Die” bill. The measure allows hospitals that receive federal funds to reject any woman in need of an abortion procedure, even if it is necessary to save her life. Though federal law already prohibits federal funding of abortions, the GOP insisted that the health care law “contains a loophole that allows those receiving federal subsidies to use the money to enroll in health care plans that allow abortion services.”
- Personhood: Mississippi entertained the idea of passing a “personhood” amendment to its constitution this year, one that defines a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” The measure’s “profoundly ambiguous” language regarding the definition of fertilization not only would ban all abortions, it could potentially outlaw birth control, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization for couples struggling to conceive. Mississippians rejected the amendment but personhood activists are making headway with versions for other states and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is championing a national personhood amendment.
- Race/Sex Abortions: Taking their queue from Arizona, House Republicans introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) — a so-called “civil rights” bill that bans physicians from performing abortions based on the fetus’s race or sex. The problem of selective abortion is virtually non-existent, as not one state official or independent research offered any evidence of race-based abortions. Only 5 percent of abortions occur after the point when a fetus’s sex can be determined. Arizona’s measure, now law, sends doctors and clinicians to jail for three years if they knowingly provide such abortions. The federal bill PRENDA allows for civil suits against the physicians.
- Forced Ultrasounds: Several states pushed bills that force doctors to show a woman seeking abortion services an ultrasound of the fetus, and in some cases, describe the image to her. The Kentucky bill, for instance, required doctors to describe the image if the woman chose to avert her eyes or face a $250,000 fine for disobeying the law. The bills are designed to dissuade women from undergoing the procedure, and in Michigan’s case, provide a “gift to the medical device industry” by forcing doctors to use “the most advanced ultrasound equipment available” to get the most “distinct” image of the fetus possible. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D-NC) vetoed her state’s version of the bill, viewing it as “a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors.”
- Fetal Pain: This year, multiple states pushed legislation limiting or banning abortions past 20 – 22 weeks “based on disputed research that fetuses an feel pain at that point of development.” The idea is widely panned by many in the medical field, with the Journal of the American Medical Association determining that “pain perception probably does not function before the third trimester.” Regardless of the science, Republican lawmakers and even presidential candidate Rick Perry endorsed the fetal pain concept in order to challenge the Roe v. Waderuling and push an earlier ban on abortions. So discredited is the concept of fetal pain that even a Kansas Republican slammed the “false research,” adding “I would be embarrassed to be a state that bases its laws on untruths.”
- Heartbeat Bill: Ohio Republicans are leading other states on the path to pass the “heartbeat bill,” which, if enacted, will be “the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation.” The bill outlaws abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as “six to seven weeks into pregnancy” or before a woman even knows she is pregnant. There is no exception in the bill for rape, incest, or mental health of a woman. What’s more, the bill forces doctors to wait until a woman is actually in danger of dying to ensure the abortion falls under the “threat to life” exception.
- Government Shutdown: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is an international development agency that promotes universal access to reproductive health services. UNFPA does not, nor has it ever, funded abortions — as dictated by its steering document and by its members. But as Matt Yglesias reported, Republicans were determined to believe that UNFPA funds abortion and thus held up negotiations to fund the government with a policy rider eliminating funding for UNFPA. U.S. law also forbids foreign funding to any entity that supports abortion, but House Republicans were so committed to their unfounded belief that the U.S. might be doing so that they threatened to shut down the entire government over it.
- Attack On Planned Parenthood: While simultaneously trying to ban abortions outright, GOP lawmakers on a state and federal level launched a full-scale effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Only 3 percent of the women’s health organization’s services are related to abortion, but it’s association with abortion compelled Republicans to enact legislation cutting or completely defunding Planned Parenthood clinics. Without the funds, many clinics across the country were forced to close, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without vital services like breast cancer screenings, STD testing, and contraception. Texas, the largest state to defund the organizations, may also shut down the entire Women’s Health Program that served 125,000 Texas women in 2012 because some of the family planning clinics in the program are affiliated with Planned Parenthood. Arizona even passed a law banning charity contributions to any organization that is related to abortions or even donates to an organization that is related to abortions. Indeed, this year’s Republican war on Planned Parenthood left thousands of low-income women and children who benefit from tangential health programs as collateral damage.
Tanya Somanader is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanya grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio and holds a B.A. in international relations and history from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Tanya was a staff member in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown, working on issues ranging from foreign policy and defense to civil rights and social policy.
Copyright 2011 LA Progressive