Since Congress returned to session in the past week, six separate anti-abortion bills have been introduced in the House and Senate. These bills would do a number of things, including instilling a nationwide 20-week abortion ban and blocking funding to Planned Parenthood.
These bills would join the 231 other restrictions that have been placed on abortion on the state level in the past four years. Now, over half of the U.S. female population live in abortion-hostile states.
“The attacks waged on women’s health … have gotten out of hand,” Jamila Perritt, MD, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington, D.C., said at a press conference this week. Perritt said that while many of the recently introduced legislative measures “claim to protect women” they instead endanger women by reinforcing non-scientific misinformation and proposing measures that would make abortion illegal — and thus unsafe.
Accessibility and legal status of abortion remain at risk as a result of “some scary myths out there” that are “accepted as fact” — and oftentimes used to back legislation to reduce, restrict, or limit abortion access, said Hal Lawrence, MD, executive vice president and CEO of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in the press conference. “I want each woman to be able to make the decision that’s right for her,” Lawrence said, “and not be influenced by rumors that have been disproven by science.”
Here’s a breakdown of the six bills introduced by Congress in these early days of 2015 — and what they mean for women’s health care.
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36)
H.R. 36 seeks to implement a nationwide 20-week abortion ban. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) believes that there “are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”
But research has shown that a fetus will not develop the nerves and neural capacity to experience pain until the third trimester. Plus, there is no evidence showing a fetus has ever survived outside of the womb before 21 weeks, and a fetus is not traditionally thought of as viable outside of the womb until 26 weeks.
As Perritt noted in the press conference, “the studies are pretty clear — at 20 weeks, there is no indication that nerves are developed [that can sense pain]. Abortion is really rare past 20 weeks and is [typically] incurred because of a set of complex circumstances” often pertaining to the health and safety of the mother, whose life is frequently at risk in such scenarios.
Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2013 (S. 48)
Introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-IA), this bill would ”prohibit discrimination against the unborn child on the basis of sex or gender, and for other purposes.” According to the bill, “experts have demonstrated that the sex-selection industry is on the rise and predict that it will continue to be a growing trend in the United States. Sex determination is always a necessary step to the procurement of a sex-selection abortion.”
Under this bill, women who seek an abortion for any reason not having to do with the sex of the fetus could potentially still be found guilty of a federal offense if they know the sex of the fetus at the time of abortion. Again, the majority of late-term abortions are performed because of tremendous dangers posed to the health of the mother; by the time such a woman might need such a medically necessary abortion, she might also know the sex of her fetus (which can typically be determined anywhere between 16 and 20 weeks gestation).
Right of Refusal within the Public Health Service Act (S.50)
“Refusal bills,” such as the just-introduced S. 50, allow health care professionals to refuse to provide an abortion to a woman based on their personal religious beliefs, even in an emergency. The bill applies not just to doctors and nurses, but also pharmacists and non-medical personnel including insurance company representatives and company-based human resources employees.
This newly introduced measure would amend the existing Public Health Service Act’s Title X, “the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.”
“While it can be appropriate to allow individual providers to decline to provide certain medical services because of their personal objections or religious views, it is not appropriate for institutions at large to claim a ‘conscience,’ and to refuse to provide women with medically necessary information, referrals, or services can jeopardize their health,” says NARAL Pro-Choice America.
A 1996 amendment to the Public Health Service Act already prohibits the federal government, as well as state and local governments, from discriminating against “health care entities on the basis that an entity refuses to receive or provide abortion training, provide abortion care or abortion referrals, or provide referrals for abortion training.”
S. 51 and H.R. 217 Title X Amendments
S. 51 and H.R. 217 both focus on Title X family planning grants, which provide funding to organizations (such as Planned Parenthood) that provide a comprehensive array of reproductive health services. While abortion services are a small part of the services offered, the bulk of health care includes testing for sexually transmitted diseases, pap smears, well-woman exams, and infertility counseling.
If passed, these concurrent bills in the House and the Senate would prevent any funds for women’s health care from going to organizations that also provide abortions (even though the funds in question are already specifically earmarked to not pay for abortion services specifically).
The legislators behind the bills say they want to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortion — a moot point since this money is not allocated, and is in fact restricted from, abortion services. Rather, these bills would instead eliminate funding for many clinics and non-profits that are funded solely through these federal grants, thus disabling them from providing basic, essential health services to women.
Federal Pregnant Women Health and Safety Act (S. 78)
This bill is what is known as a TRAP (or, Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) bill, imposing restrictions and regulations more strict and stringent on abortion providers than other medical professionals.
According to RH Reality Check, which provides evidence-based analysis and data on sexual and reproductive health issues, S 78 would require physicians performing abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within an oftentimes restrictive geographical limit — something that has already been seen on the state level over the last few years.
In the press conference, ACOG’s Lawrence commented that there is “no benefit to these regulations” that are often invoked in the name of increased patient safety. Lawrence added that “colonoscopies have much higher risks but are performed at much less qualified centers” – with 33 percent of those having had a colonoscopy reporting some kind of post-procedure symptom – than many clinics that perform both medical and surgical abortions.
“Abortion has over a 99 percent safety record,” Perritt said at the press conference, clarifying that major complications from both medical and surgical abortion emerge “less than 1 percent of the time” — in other words, at the same rate of complications “experienced in miscarriage.”
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