Anti-Abortion Wingnuts Eager for Joe Pitts to Do Battle as Chair of Health Subcommittee
As predicted three weeks ago, anti-choice forces managed to get their hand-picked ringer - Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts - selected as chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. The committee is responsible for health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. House policy on abortion policy also falls under its jurisdiction.
One of the most conservative members of the House on abortion, Pitts can be expected to make an attack on women's reproductive rights a key objective in his new role. He will, of course, be aided in his task by John Boehner as the new Speaker of the House. Of his 142 votes on reproductive rights in his 20 years as a Representative, Boehner has voted pro-choice zero times.
Like most congressional Republicans, Pitts opposes the health reform law, but if repealing it fails, he will continue seeking - as he has done formally since April - to do away with federal subsidies to low- and middle-income Americans for any health care plans that include abortion coverage. That was the intent of the amendment he co-sponsored last year with Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak. The amendment passed the House but was left out of the Senate version of the health law. As signed by the President, the law will allow insurance plans to cover abortions, but no federal dollars can be used to pay for them. People who are subsidized will have to write two premium checks, one to cover abortions and one for the rest of their coverage. The subsidies start in 2014.
Under the bill Pitts proposed with 125 co-sponsors in April, the Protect Life Act would amend the health reform law to stipulate that "no funds ... may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion ..." Eighty-seven percent of plans now include such coverage.
Marjorie Dannfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a political action committee dedicated to getting anti-choice politicians elected to Congress, said last week, that the committee appointment:
...is a major pro-life victory, as it is the gateway for legislation that embodies almost every pro-life protection America has consistently affirmed in polls and elections. We look forward to working with Rep. Joe Pitts, newly-elected Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, and the rest of the committee to pass meaningful laws that save lives and protect the conscience of taxpayers in the next Congress.
"This goal can be accomplished by pushing through committee the two centerpieces of our Stop Abortion Funding campaign, the 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,' sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith and Dan Lipinski, and the 'Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act' sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence.
"Taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care bill played a major role in races across the country, resulting in a net gain of over 50 pro-life votes in the House and a 70 percent increase in the number of pro-life women. Congress has been sent clear marching orders from the American people to defund abortion now. The appointment of Rep. Joe Pitts as Health Subcommittee Chair is an encouraging start."
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act is also known as "Stupak on Steroids" or "Hyde on Steroids." Currently, the 34-year-old Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal spending on abortion, must be annually renewed. This act would make the amendment permanent. It would prohibit a person or employer from getting income-tax deductions for health care premiums or co-pays if the plan covered abortions.
The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act would would ban federal money for any organization that performs abortions or funds organizations that do. That act has a very specific target: Planned Parenthood.
At the federal level, there is considerable reason to believe that these attacks can be turned back, if not by the Senate, by a presidential veto. But while congressional Republicans - and some anti-choice Democrats such as Lipinski - will be working to restrict reproductive rights, state legislators, in many cases with new or strengthened GOP majorities, will be at work as well, from Montana to New Hampshire and everywhere in between. Which means that, as it has since about five minutes after Roe v. Wade was decided, progressives will have to keep devoting ample resources and energy to fighting for something that ought to be settled law.