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Ms. LINDA T. SÁNCHEZ of California. Madam Speaker, today I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act. Instead of focusing on creating jobs, the House majority has decided instead to continue their relentless assault on women's rights and limit access to fair and adequate health care.
Despite its name, this bill is not about protecting life. In fact, it is far from it. One provision in this bill would put women's lives in danger by allowing hospitals to refuse to provide life-saving abortion care even when a woman's life is in critical danger.
This bill would also allow states to ostensibly deny critical non-abortion services to women. The Protect Life Act has the potential to undermine laws guaranteeing health care services well beyond those in the reproductive-health area. This could result in the denial of mental health care, HIV counseling, and other vital services.
Current law is clear: Federal funding of abortion is forbidden except under very limited circumstances. This bill would impose unprecedented limitations on abortion coverage and restrict access to abortion services and contraceptives for all women. I urge my colleagues to reject this dangerous assault on women and I urge the majority to work on legislation that will put Americans back to work.
Mr. TOWNS. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the underlying bill. At a time when Americans' top priority is job creation--when Americans are desperately calling on us to work together to turn our economy around--some are instead launching the most comprehensive and radical assault on women's health in our lifetime. This shameful attack on women's ability to obtain complete health information and services does a disservice to women, families, and all Americans.
To begin with, according to the stated purpose of the bill, which is to prevent federal funds from being used to cover abortion services, the bill is already gratuitous. Recent legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act have revealed that it contains ``strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in the case of rape or incest or where the life of the woman is endangered,'' rendering this legislation unnecessary. This type of extreme and redundant legislation will prove insightful to jobless Americans wondering why they have yet to see meaningful economic turnaround.
H.R. 358 would effectively prevent women from obtaining private insurance coverage for abortion services. By banning coverage of abortion in health exchanges, the bill will ensure that no one will be able to purchase abortion coverage--including women who do not receive federal assistance. The bookkeeping burden that would be required for insurers to offer separate policies, with and without abortion coverage, is simply too high. Insurance providers are surely not interested in providing both, when most women cannot afford to pay for the abortion coverage option out-of-pocket anyway. Proponents of the legislation suggest that insurance companies could simply offer an ``abortion rider.'' Women would have to plan for an unplanned pregnancy by purchasing supplemental insurance. This is unlikely, considering that most cannot afford to purchase even a single insurance policy. Furthermore, history has shown that insurers are reluctant to offer ``riders'' even when given the option to do so. As health exchanges grow as they are expected to, these restrictions will only affect more and more women looking for affordable and adequate health insurance.
Furthermore, the bill seeks to dramatically expand dangerous refusal provisions which contradict prevailing standards of care. Such expansion ignores the basic tenant of ethical health care, which requires that patients be presented with all of their medical options when making health care decisions. This bill would allow professionals with only a tangential connection to abortion services, such as a hospital receptionists or claims adjusters at insurance companies, to obstruct the medical process due to their beliefs. This would effectively tip the balance against patients seeking effective and comprehensive health care.
The `non-discrimination' provision in fact discriminates against abortion providers, as it provides no protection for their beliefs. A one-sided non-discrimination provision is not nondiscriminatory at all. We cannot allow this expansion, which would create a culture of refusal where anyone could obstruct access to abortion services for any reason.
Most disturbingly, a late addition to the Pitts bill would allow the expansive refusal provision to trump important patient protections guaranteed by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, as well as similar protections in state laws requiring emergency care providers to save a woman's life. This would be an unprecedented expansion of the right to refusal. We simply cannot allow for the possibility that a pregnant woman suffering from a medical emergency would see her right to medical care overridden by health professionals' moral views, which do not always place her health and safety first. Unfortunately, we have already seen what happens when professionals place their views over the health of the patient. In one case several months ago, a woman almost died over an unviable fetus as medical professionals exercised their right of refusal and waited for the fetus to die, delaying treatment for the mother. We cannot allow women to unwittingly seek emergency treatment at medical facilities that do not value their safety first. We cannot override existing EMTALA patient protections.
Finally, language in the Pitts bill extends far beyond abortion, and could allow insurers to refuse to provide other vital health services that are part of the minimum standards for health coverage set by the Affordable Care Act. This bill would open the door to refusal of effective reproductive services concerning contraception and infertility, for example. As we look to preventative services to avoid more expensive future treatments, this bill could prevent access to screening for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. At a time when many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, put food on the table, and pay their mortgages, it is unfathomable that we could consider restricting access to these essential, safe, and effective health services.
To reiterate, the Affordable Care Act contains ample protection against federal funding for abortion. The Pitts bill, in addition to being discriminatory, would create undue hardship on women and families as they attempt to make private health care decisions. It is dangerous to the health of pregnant women, and all women. At a time of staggering unemployment and economic hardship, this bill, unnecessary and unfair as it is, is not the kind of leadership Americans are looking for from Congress. To vote Yes on this bill is to roll back the strides we have been making toward equitable and effective health care for all Americans, and that is unacceptable.
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote No on this Bill.
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