Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives continues to engage in "muscle flexing", posturing and symbolic votes.  House Republicans, after passing the "dead on arrival" repeal of the ObamaCare health care bill, now are staging hearings in several committees on equally futile abortion restrictions.

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" does away with tax deductions for private employers if their health insurance plans include abortion coverage. The bill would also forbid women who use "flexible spending plans" for abortion to use those dollars, which are deductions from their paychecks currently exempt for payroll taxes.

Another bill tries to modify provisions of the health care bill which Republicans have sworn to repeal in its entirety anyway, by disallowing citizens who participate in the bill's "state exchanges" from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money. The bill goes on to allow hospitals to refuse to perform abortions, even in emergencies, if “abortions offend the conscience of the healthcare providers.”

There are several aspects to these developments that create the character of political grandstanding. First, the Republicans opposed the passage of Obama's health care bill in part because it represented a huge transformation to a major part of the economy and affected every citizen's personal life without the support of a significant majority of the American citizens. While this was a proper and credible critique, the sponsors of the current anti-abortion legislation are doing the same thing.

The abortion issue will not attract a significant majority on either side for the foreseeable future. While there are many nuances to the debate, it is essentially a conflict between ideology i.e. feminism and religion. Neither of these belief systems are amenable to compromise. Currently the nation is split almost evenly. Those who self identify as "pro-life" account for 47% of the population and those who self-identify as "pro-choice" account for 45%. (Gallup Poll: 5/10). However, those who say abortion should be allowable "under certain circumstances" and those who say abortion should be allowable "under all circumstances" total 78% (54% and 24% respectively). Only 19% of respondents believed that abortion should be illegal "in all circumstances".

Second, the issue is highly partisan, which explains the current activism in the House. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans identify as "pro-life" but only 45% of Independents and 31% of Democrats agree.

Third, the use of federal funds for abortions has been illegal under the Hyde Amendment to annual Health and Human Services Dept. appropriations since 1976. In a compromise connected to the passage of the health care reform act, President Obama issued an Executive Order restating that the provisions of the Hyde Amendment would apply to the act.

Fourth, the vigorously pro-life Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) reports that only 14% of all abortions are paid for with public funds, "virtually all of which are state funds."

Fifth, the broader issue of abortions legality was settled by the Supreme Court in it's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. This decision which extended constitutional protection to women seeking elective abortions under most circumstances, is not likely to be overturned even by the more conservative current Court.

Finally, and most important, until the Republican Party gains majorities in the Senate as well as the House and elects a Republican president, none of these legislative efforts, like the repeal of the health care bill, is going to succeed. The House Republicans know this and yet they persist in these time wasting and ideologically polarizing legislative proposals. At a time when bi-partisan cooperation is vital in order to address the economic/deficit/debt crisis, which can't wait until after the 2012 elections, the Republicans in the House should accept the reality of current abortion politics, both on the national and congressional level, and get back to business.

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