House Committee Advances Funding Bill Giving Employers, Health Care Personnel Free Rein to Discriminate Against Women Based on Health Care Decisions
Measure also guts nation’s family planning program, renews restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion services
(PRESS RELEASE) The House Appropriations Committee today voted along party lines to approve a funding bill with unrelated riders attached that would allow employers and health care personnel to refuse to offer essential reproductive health services and insurance coverage based solely on their personal beliefs.
In an equally drastic move, the measure also completely eliminates funding for Title X, a national program which ensures access to family planning and other essential health services for millions of uninsured and low-income individuals.
The bill—designed to set funding levels for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education—also renews a harmful restriction on Medicaid coverage for abortion services, known as the Hyde Amendment.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Plain and simple, this is an assault on services essential to the empowerment and well-being of women and families across the U.S., and to reducing unintended pregnancies nationwide.
“Given that more than half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, the total elimination of funding for family planning services is a serious threat to this country’s public and fiscal health alike.
“And while your boss has no place dictating your personal, private decisions about your reproductive health care, the politicians behind this bill are kicking the door wide open to exactly that kind of intrusion.
“Congress must reject these reckless, irresponsible, and extremely harmful riders and funding cuts.”
Today’s measure would completely eliminate the Title X family planning program, a drastic move that would have a profound impact on the nearly 4.6 million women and men served by health centers that receive this funding. Title X is the nation’s only federal program dedicated to providing family-planning services, including preventive care, cancer screenings, testing for infectious diseases, and contraception, for millions of low-income people. An amendment by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) to restore the program was rejected by a party-line vote 21-30.
A new restriction attached to today’s measure would also dramatically expand the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling by allowing any employer or insurance company to opt out of providing any health care coverage to which they have any “moral or religious objection.” This open-ended language gives employers and insurance companies a free rein to discriminate against employees on virtually any basis, allowing bosses to refuse to cover any health care service they find objectionable—including contraception, abortion, or HIV/AIDS screening and treatment. An amendment by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) to eliminate this rider was rejected 20-31.
The bill would also expand a harmful policy known as the Weldon Amendment, a rider that has been attached to the funding bill annually since 2005 and which allows health care entities to deny women comprehensive reproductive health services, coverage, and information. This new language would give anyone who would “participate in” the provision of abortion care carte blanche to refuse to comply with laws regarding abortion—and thereby deny women access to safe and legal care. The bill includes no exceptions to safeguard the life or health of the pregnant woman – potentially providing a loophole for hospitals that refuse to provide an emergency, life-saving abortion, despite the fact that such care is required by existing law. The amendment offered by Rep. Wasserman Schultz would also have eliminated this new language.
In addition to these sweeping new attacks on reproductive health care and coverage, the bill would renew the harmful and discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal Medicaid coverage of abortion. Cutting off access to or placing strict limitations on abortion can have a profound impact on public health, particularly for those who already face significant barriers to receiving high-quality health care, such as low-income women, immigrant women, young women, and women of color. Studies show that a woman who seeks an abortion but is denied is three times more likely to fall into poverty than one who is able to get an abortion.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up its version of this spending bill tomorrow morning.