Keep Religious Restrictions Out of the Tax Code

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As a rabbi, I have to say, money is only part of the issue surrounding this abortion tax hike. My concern is really about a religious minority – so extreme and desperate in an anti-abortion position and inventiveness – that it is turning to the tax code to pressure all of us to live by their restrictive faith teachings.

These groups are emboldened by their recent victory in the national health care reform we know as the Affordable Care Act. They wrote their faith into the bill by restricting abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges – and by adding a financial complication for any woman concerned about comprehensive reproductive health coverage.  We saw the hand of anti-abortion religious forces when Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) pledged to follow the direction of his Church’s Bishops in working for an even more severe insurance restriction. And it was the same with Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), who supported ACA only after being assured by his parish priest that his vote would not jeopardize his “eternal salvation.” Now, as we turn to the current legislative session, these groups support H. R. 3, the purported “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The Smith Bill means that individuals and businesses whose health plans include abortion care coverage will face a tax hike: They will lose existing tax credits and deductions for insurance premiums as long as abortion coverage remains. And, many people, including many clergy like me, have cause for concern.

These abortion opponents are callous and relentless. Initially, the Smith Bill would have allowed use of public funds for abortion after rape only if the assault was “forcible,” leaving in the lurch a woman who was drugged, mentally disabled or coerced.  The public outcry to this heartless restriction grew so great, that Rep. Smith agreed to drop the term. But the story’s not over.

First, as a pastor to women and families, I can speak to the importance of insurance coverage for abortion care. When contraception fails and a pregnancy comes unplanned or when a wanted pregnancy goes wrong, a woman may well find herself in need. That’s how clergy come to see the importance of access to abortion services and ensuring that the woman has the means to pay for it. And that’s why we stand against curtailment of access for the vulnerable woman. Second, anti-abortion groups are frustrated by the many women and families who ignore their rhetoric. So they are turning to the tax code, thinking a financial disincentive will accomplish their goal – enshrining their particular religious perspective as the law for all, including people who follow other faith teachings and the dictates of conscience.  But my faith has a different teaching.

From the very beginnings of the family planning movement in the United States – almost 100 years ago – clergy from many denominations supported access to the full range of reproductive medical services. And today, many religious leaders recognize abortion as a fact of life. We realize that when a woman knows her pregnancy is not right for her, she will do what she believes she should to end it. That’s the lesson from the days before abortion became legal in the United States – talk to the clergy who were called to officiate at the funerals of women who were left to go underground for unsafe care. And today we see that women of all faiths have abortions, despite what their religious leaders may think about it.  So we affirm that when a woman believes her pregnancy is not to continue, the moral high ground is spare her the strident sermon, get her to medical care – and, sorry Rep. Smith – not penalize her or her employer with a tax hike on her insurance premiums.  

We honor the sanctity of life when a child is wanted and cared for. We honor the dignity of women when we ensure they are protected from the material burdens of medical care just because God made them women, different from men.  And we are working to keep the restrictions of one faith out of a tax code that applies to all.  


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