Does a pregnant woman's right to life supercede a provider's religious belief? Legislation which makes it lawful to allow a pregnant woman to die instead of providing legal abortion care - if the hospital in which the woman is a patient is religiously-affiliated or the provider is opposed to legal abortion - passed out of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today by a vote of 33 - 19 and is on its way to the full House now.
HR 358, also known as The Protect Life Act (noted without a hint of irony), introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) of health care reform fame, has been barraged by women's health advocates and picked apart by media outlets for its extreme take on what are called refusal or conscience laws. Federal law allows for health care providers who work at hospitals which receive federal funds (via Medicaid or Medicare, for example) to refuse to provide abortion care if the provider holds a religious or moral objection, and most states have also enacted conscience or refusal laws. However, federal law also currently mandates that hospitals must ensure public access to emergency services. This law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) also says that hospitals are "required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs [Emergency Medical Conditions]. If a hospital is unable to stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, an appropriate transfer should be implemented."
Yet the Protect Life Act is attempting to widen that loophole as big as the audacity its based upon and allow for providers to simply opt-out of saving pregnant women's lives if it means providing abortion care.
Jodi wrote about the bill on Friday, February 11, as fellow House members objected to its lack of proper citation of constitutional authority,
Today Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., (D-NJ) Ranking Member of the Health Subcommittee, sent a letter (full text below) to Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcomittee, urging him to withdraw consideration of H.R. 358, a bill which among other things would permit hospitals to deny life-saving treatment to pregnant women. The bill passed in subcommittee yesterday. Waxman and Pallone have called on Upton and Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) not to bring the bill to full committee unless and until it is re-introduced with a proper citation of constitutional authority, in accordance with a rule passed by the House GOP leadership on the first day of the new session.
The bill blatantly permits health care providers to opt-out of providing abortions - even if said abortion will save the woman's life (which of course makes very little sense given that saving the woman's life will save the life of the fetus growing inside as well; but who said logic was a part of this process, anyway?). As Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women's Law Center said of the legislation,
“Plain and simple, the Pitts bill jeopardizes women’s health. It threatens women’s ability to use their own money to purchase private health insurance that includes abortion coverage and broadly expands the ability of health care providers to refuse women essential health care services. Under this bill, hospitals could just refuse to perform an emergency abortion—even when a woman’s life is at risk."
If you think this is hyperbole, it's not. The experience of one young mother of four at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix illustrates the danger perfectly. When her pregnancy also threatened her life, and she was rushed to the hospital with pulmonary hypertension, the Catholic hospital administrators struggled with whether or not to perform the life-saving procedure. Ultimately, it was in large part thanks to a nun who worked with the hospital, on its Ethics Committee, that the abortion was performed, allowing this mother to return to her four children and her husband alive and well. The hospital, however, was stripped of its affiliation with the Roman Catholic Diocese by the Archbishop who saw the life-saving, emergency care as superfluous, and not in line with Church tenets.
The bill would also bar a woman from purchasing abortion care coverage with her own money if she also took part in a state health exchange (soon to be created under health reform) and prohibit insurance plans from offering coverage of abortion care if they served even one person who also took part in a state health exchange.