Posted By Rosel Kim – Nov. 28, 2011
On October 13, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the controversial H.R. 358, better known as Protect Life Act, amending federal coverage to abortions and protecting the rights of institutions and persons refusing to perform abortions. The Act has been met with condemnation from the Democrats, as well as women’s rights groups. Nancy Pelosi strongly opposed the Act by stating: “women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene.” This strong criticism comes from the Act’s measures that will protect health care facilities or an individual practitioner’s refusal to perform abortions.
The Act gives immunity to institutions or individual health care services, or physicians that refuse to provide coverage or services for abortions. Neither the federal government nor the State government can interfere with or force health care services to provide abortions. Governing bodies cannot punish services – including institutional or individual health care entity – and individuals who refuse to perform abortions. The modifications to coverage could circumvent services like Planned Parenthood from providing abortions by blocking its federal stipends from being used for, not only direct abortion procedures, but also services like counselling (since it could fall under “referral.”) The section on “Limitation on Abortion Funding” reads as following:
OPTION TO OFFER COVERAGE OR PLAN
“Nothing in this subsection or section 1311(d)(2)(b)(i) shall restrict any non-Federal health insurance issue offering a qualified health plan from offering separate coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection, or a qualified health plan that includes such abortions, so long as –
(A) premiums for such separate coverage or plan are paid for entirely with funds not authorized or appropriated by this Act;
(B) administrative costs and all services offered through such coverage or plan are paid for using only premiums collected for such coverage or plan; and
(C) any such non-Federal health insurance issuer that offers a qualified health plan through an Exchange that includes coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection also offers a qualified health plan through the Exchange that is identical in every respect except that it does not cover abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection.1
By protecting the refusal to perform abortions under the language of “nondiscrimination,” the Act essentially characterizes the denial of abortion as a “right” as opposed to the eradication of a right. Health practitioners who oppose abortion on moral grounds become a protected group of citizens, as opposed to professionals who have duties and obligations towards others. Health care is no longer seen as a service that meets the needs and protects the interests of those receiving the services, but instead as an expression of the practitioner’s beliefs (whether it is for or against abortion):
“Federal agency or program, and any State or local government that receives Federal financial assistance under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), may not subject any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination, or require any health plan created or regulated under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) to subject any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity refuses to –
(A) undergo training in the performance of induced abortions;
(B) require or provide such training;
(C) perform, participate in, provide coverage of, or pay for induced abortions; or
(D) provide referrals for such training or such abortions.” 2
Prior to the Act, the Hyde Amendment had already eliminated abortion from eligible medical services available through the Medicaid program, a federal health care service for low-income population.3 The Act now frames abortion as an “extra” matter that does not belong in the core of health care services. No health care coverage or abortion services receiving federal funds can provide a plan or subsidies for abortions. This places the cost of abortions solely upon those seeking the procedure. The blocking of abortion from all federal agencies or funding marginalizes a procedure that should be considered a basic health procedure for women.
The Act coincides with a new case in New Jersey involving 12 nurses asserting their right to refuse to assist women getting abortions.4 The debate leads the question of scope in “assisting,” and whether it includes indirect procedures such as taking down a patient’s name.
With the upcoming presidential election, the Act undeniably seems to serve a political purpose for the Republican Party. The Act is currently undergoing Senate debates.
1 Protest Life Act, s. 2(c) (9) available online: .
2 Ibid. s.2 (g)
3 Exception to the Hyde Amendment included abortion involving cases of rape, incest, and endangerment of a pregnant woman’s life by disorder or injury. For more information on the Hyde Amendment, see: <www.a< span=”” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”></www.a<>clu.org/reproductive-freedom/public-funding-abortion>.
4 See “New Jersey nurses claim right to refuse assisting in abortions” Online: <www.glo< span=”” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”></www.glo<>beandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/new-jersey-nurses-claim-right-to-refuse-assisting-in-abortions/article2251859/>.