Playing Politics with Women's Rights

For a party whose mantra is "small government," Republicans' ceaseless meddling in women's health care flies in the face of every principle they claim to embrace.
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Investing in the health of American women should not be a partisan dispute. Family planning decisions belong to women, their doctors and their families, not to ideologues in Congress. Unfortunately, House Republicans have made attacks on women's health services a top priority of the 112th Congress. Even more startling is that the measures we're considering will not only disproportionately limit low-income and minority women's access to basic health care, it will place unprecedented restrictions on the health insurance benefits offered to middle-class women, civil servants and small business owners.

Today, millions of low-income women and minority women receive basic health services through organizations like Planned Parenthood. They have come under relentless attack by anti-choice groups and their supporters on Capitol Hill, even though the majority of Americans endorse women's access to health care. More than 60 percent of voters support family planning programs, according to a recent national survey conducted by the Lombardo Consulting Group. Last Friday, the Hart Research Associates conducted a national poll that showed that 64 percent of registered voters oppose proposals to end all funding for Planned Parenthood, while the vast majority -- 81 percent -- of voters under age 30 opposes ending funding for Planned Parenthood.

So why are some Members of Congress so consumed with restricting women's access to the health services they need when we have an economy in shreds and devastating high unemployment? Why is the House Republican majority laser-focused on pursuing unprecedented government intrusion into reproductive rights? And, why do some lawmakers insist on using deceptively titled bills, like the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," when federal funding for abortion is already banned under current law, except in extremely narrow circumstances?

Over the past four months, House Republicans have introduced or reintroduced a series of legislation that would, among other things, redefine "forcible rape"; permanently block access of low-income women, civil servants and military women to abortion care; and penalize millions of small businesses that choose to offer their employees comprehensive health insurance coverage that includes abortion services. For a party whose mantra is "small government," Republicans' ceaseless meddling in women's health care flies in the face of every principle they claim to embrace.

But this is about more than just trying to square the Republican Party's call for small government with its penchant for federal intrusions into the lives of women. This is about imposing far-reaching restrictions on abortion access to a much larger share of the population than current laws allow. And, it is about implementing sweeping changes to federal tax policy that will raise health care costs for millions of women who seek comprehensive health care coverage.

These alarming efforts to roll back women's reproductive rights are paralleled by similar efforts on the state level. NARAL Pro-Choice America is tracking 371 anti-choice measures offered in state legislatures this year; there were 174 state bills at this time last year.

Last Wednesday, Virginia joined seven other states to ban health insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act's state health care exchanges from covering abortion -- even when women buy that insurance with their own, private dollars. In Nebraska today, it is illegal for a woman to obtain abortion care after 20 weeks, even in tragic cases of a fetal anomaly.

Such radical measures against women are anachronistic and insidious; their immediate consequences will be felt throughout our population.

It used to be a statement of fact that investing in the health of women is good for the country. The fundamental recognition that in a civilized society, we must strive to provide basic services to all -- not just the wealthy -- is missing in the current legislative discussions about women's health. Playing politics with women's health is simply wrong. American women deserve better.

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) is a physician as well as a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Throughout his career as an elected official in the Washington State Legislature and U.S. Congress, his primary focus has been improving our health care systems to provide more affordable, effective and accessible care to all Americans.

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