The XX Factor

House Republicans’ Permanent Ban on Federal Abortion Funding Would Affect Private Insurance, Too

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, right, sponsored a bill to keep women from getting abortion coverage through their insurance plans.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, a rider that bans the use of federal funds for abortion services. Currently, the Hyde Amendment must be re-attached to every year’s appropriations bill, as it routinely has been since 1976, to be effective. Tuesday’s bill hopes to make that ban into federal law, and to impose additional abortion restrictions on private insurance plans, further restricting abortion access.

The bill, HR7, would effectively enshrine the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions. It would permanently prevent people who get health care through Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, the U.S. military, and the Peace Corps from getting abortion care covered. Federal employees and their family members, too, would be prohibited under federal law from getting insurance coverage for abortion. The ban on D.C. using its own local funds to pay for low-income women’s abortion care would be made permanent as well. The only exceptions under the Hyde Amendment and this bill are for rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the pregnant woman.

HR7 would also go beyond the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions by penalizing women who purchase insurance that covers abortion care and insurers and small businesses that offer such policies. Today, most private insurance plans do cover abortion, and individual health plans sold on the marketplace may cover abortion as long as they fulfill certain administrative requirements. But HR7 would prevent women from getting premium assistance tax credits—subsidies for health insurance, established under the Affordable Care Act, that go to households making under 400 percent of the federal poverty line—if they choose a plan that includes abortion coverage.

This would encourage insurers to drop abortion coverage from their policies, because there’s no incentive to offer a plan that so many people could not or would not buy. HR7 would completely ban the sale of multi-state plans that cover abortion on ACA exchanges. It would also take the small business tax credit away from employers that offer their employees insurance coverage for abortion, giving businesses a reason to exclude one specific constitutionally-protected health procedure from their available insurance plans.

“At best, we’re looking at a burdensome and confusing system that disincentivizes insurers from covering abortion and stigmatizes women who seek this coverage,” Destiny Lopez, co-director of anti–Hyde Amendment campaign All* Above All, told Slate in an email. At worst, depending on how the bill is enforced, “we may be looking at a total ban on abortion coverage, including for women in the private insurance market.” If they can’t make abortion illegal, anti-abortion Republicans have decided, they’ll make the procedure expensive enough that women won’t be able to afford it.

As Rewire points out, Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed this bill at least every other year—with the dawn of each new Congress—since 2011. This is the fourth time it’s passed the House; it’s never passed the Senate. Three Democratic representatives voted to codify the ban on federal funding for abortion care on Tuesday: Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. No Republicans voted against it.

The Senate is currently considering the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a companion bill to HR7. Reproductive rights advocates in the Senate and the White House have prevented previous years’ bills from going further than the House. But Lopez and her cohort aren’t taking any chances this year. “With Trump in the White House and anti-woman majorities in the House and Senate, there’s a chance this bill could become law,” she said. “That’s why we’re mobilizing activists—many of whom are fresh off the weekend’s Women’s Marches—to take the next step and contact their Senators.” It would take only a handful of Republican senators rejecting the bill, or a contingent of Democrats willing to filibuster it, to derail Republicans’ plan to permanently restrict abortion access.