The most unpopular Congress in history didn’t take that title by accident or through a stroke of bad luck. The 112th Congress, which came to an end just a few months ago, earned a record-setting rate of disapproval from U.S. voters because of its legislative record.
As historians look back at the 112th Congress, they will certainly pay much attention to politicians who rose to prominence on a platform purported to be interested solely in shrinking government. Yet many of them demonstrated extreme positions when it came to reproductive rights, aggressively pushing for governmental interference in a woman’s decision about her health.
The bottom line: over the two-year session, members of Congress filed at least 87 bills containing provisions aimed at dismantling reproductive rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights has documented the depth and breadth of this unrelenting campaign in Under Attack: Reproductive Rights in the 112th Congress.
The good news is that some lawmakers in the House and Senate vigorously defended women’s reproductive health and freedom, and almost none of the retrograde proposals pursued by anti-choice legislators succeeded. But there were more than a few scares.
First and foremost, this Congress took direct aim at the historic legislation that was the centerpiece of the previous Congress. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, will ultimately deliver health insurance to tens of millions of people who need it. The new law also expands preventative care to include contraception, meaning that women will no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year (at a minimum) in co-payments for medication that keeps women and their families healthy, and actually saves hundreds of millions in costs by preventing unintended pregnancies.
The House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA 33 times during the 112th Congress. And the contraception benefit was directly targeted by proposals that would have allowed employers to pick and choose the health care their employees can access through their insurance plans. Opponents of the contraception benefit went to great lengths to try to force such a measure into law, including by attaching it to a major, must-pass transportation bill.
The House of Representatives holds the nation’s purse strings, so anti-choice politicians also tried to use fiscal matters as a way to choke off access to reproductive health care. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act sought to ban private abortion coverage in state health insurance exchanges and use federal funding as a way to stop health facilities from offering abortion services. The cynically named Protect Life Act would have prevented abortion coverage in the state exchanges if even one participant received federal assistance to pay insurance premiums. This measure ultimately became known in reproductive rights circles as the “Let Women Die Act” because it also tried to give hospitals the right to refuse women emergency abortion services.
Most Americans wanted Congress to focus on the economy, but they may have gotten more focus than they bargained for when the House nearly shut down the government over defunding Planned Parenthood.
The House also exerts tremendous influence over policy in the District of Columbia. One of the few successes of anti-choice politicians occurred when they used the budget process to deny the District its right to provide abortion coverage with nonfederal funds.
These are just a few of the misguided pieces of legislation that distracted Congress from the problems Americans most wanted solved. And voters took notice. The November elections saw a fierce backlash against the ugly rhetoric of anti-choice politicians, most of whom were sent packing.
The 112th Congress didn’t achieve much in the way of setting back reproductive rights, but it did send a loud message about the intentions of more than just a few rogue senators and representatives. This report documents the animus in thorough detail. Now we must fight to make sure it’s not a chapter in our history that we’re forced to relive again and again.