Republicans put ideology ahead of women’s health


On Oct. 13, the United States House of Representatives passed HR 358, a bill known as the Protect Life Act. The bill is intended to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, specifically the rules relating to abortion services coverage. On the day of the vote, almost every single Republican representative supported it, with two voting against and three abstaining. Of the Democrats, the majority voted against the bill, with seven abstaining and 15 voting for the bill, all 15 of whom were men. This partisan contrast and gendered distribution of votes is only the start of the problems with this bill.

This bill, sponsored by Republican representative Joe Pitts, is the latest in a series of anti-abortion (arguably anti-woman) proposals that have been presented in America in the past year. It includes a number of disturbing provisions to prevent state healthcare exchanges from providing abortion coverage under policies paid for by the patients themselves. It allows states to enact laws that would allow health plans to refuse to cover birth control and other preventative services without cost-sharing, placing a gag order on insurers in order to prevent them from giving out information on how to get abortion coverage. The worst of these is a provision to allow state-funded hospitals to deny emergency abortions to women in life-threatening situations. This final provision has earned this bill the appropriate nickname of the “Let Women Die” bill.

Abortion was ruled to be a constitutionally-protected right for women, free from government interference, in 1973, with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade.

While this bill does not flat out prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion, it can certainly be argued that the government is interfering with that right. Limiting access to birth control is the first of many blunders, since, in 2000-2001, a study conducted by R.K. Jones, J.E. Darroch and S.K. Henshaw found that 46 per cent of women who had abortions were not using contraception during the month they became pregnant. If Pitts is trying to limit the number of abortions that happen each year, cutting access to basic contraception is certainly not going help.

While there are many other aspects of this bill that need to be explored, there is one provision which calls for immediate attention. Principle VI of the American Medical Association’s “Principles of Medical Ethics” states that “[a] physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical care.” Putting aside the debate of who is “entitled” to receive an abortion, this principle clearly states that in emergency circumstances, the physician must put aside his/her right to choose whom he/she serves.

While pregnant women are currently protected under the Emergency Medial Treatment and Active Labour Act, which was enacted in 1986, the Protect Life Act would override those provisions. Creating a piece of legislation that directly allows doctors to place their personal feelings about abortion before the life of a patient should not even be considered.

Despite the number of attacks on women’s rights which have taken place in the House in the past year, there are still brave women standing up for their constituents.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made her view on this bill quite clear, stating that “under this bill, when the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and healthcare providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed. It’s just appalling. […] It’s a health issue. […] America’s families deserve better than this.”

Thankfully, President Barack Obama has already stated that he would veto the bill should it ever reach his desk. However, the fact that this bill was considered, let alone approved by the House of Representatives, is disgraceful.

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