House Democrats proposed bold pro-abortion rights legislation on Wednesday that has no chance of passing in the GOP-controlled chamber, but highlights the massive gulf between the two parties on the hot-button issue.
The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, would guarantee abortion coverage for all Medicaid recipients and women who receive health insurance through the federal government. The bill, authored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and co-sponsored by more than 60 House Democrats, would repeal the decades-long ban on abortion insurance coverage for U.S. federal employees, military servicewomen, Peace Corps volunteers and those who are insured through the Indian Health Service. It would also prevent state legislatures from interfering with the private insurance market and banning insurers from covering abortion.
Specifically, the bill would overturn the Hyde Amendment, a policy rider that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except if a pregnancy arises from incest or rape. Anti-abortion politicians have been attaching the rider to important pieces of legislation each year since 1976, and it disproportionately affects minority and low-income women.
"Make no mistake-- these lawmakers really do want to ban abortions altogether," Lee said at a press conference on Wednesday. "Since they can't, they employ these very devious and underhanded tactics to push abortion care out of reach for women who are really just struggling to just make ends meet, and that's just wrong. Politicians have no business interfering with a woman's private reproductive health decisions."
When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, 86 percent of private insurance companies covered abortion. This meant that most women who purchased private insurance plans or received health coverage through their private sector jobs had abortion coverage, while Medicaid recipients and federal employees did not. But the passage of Obamacare seemed to alert Republican lawmakers to the fact that abortion was being covered in insurance plans, and more than 20 GOP-led state legislatures have since passed laws banning private insurance companies from covering abortion.
Republicans have tried to restrict abortion in the past few years by mandating ultrasounds, placing gestational limits on abortions and imposing harsh clinic regulations. While Democrats have pushed back hard, the Hyde Amendment and other efforts to restrict the funding and coverage of abortion have slipped into law relatively easily. Republicans have successfully branded federal insurance coverage of abortion as "taxpayer-funded abortions," and President Barack Obama has accepted the Hyde anti-abortion language in Obamacare and year after year in unrelated bills.
This year, as Republicans in Congress push to ban abortions at earlier stages of pregnancy than the limit established by the Supreme Court in 1973, House Democrats are playing offense, too, by pushing for an unprecedented expansion of abortion coverage. Planned Parenthood, one of 39 national organizations working with the All Above All coalition in support of the effort, lauded the new legislation as "historic."
"For 40 years, the majority of Americans have been saying that abortion should be safe and legal," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "And that means it should be safe and legal for everyone – not only for those who can afford it.”