Local Republican Congressmen vote to deny emergency care to save mothers’ lives
By Shannon Michael
October 15, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) – The Republican-controlled House this week passed a restrictive measure that would let hospitals refuse to provide an abortion even if urgently needed to save a woman’s life.
“The misnamed Protect Life Act is about allowing women to die if they need an emergency abortion,” said Meghan Rhoad at Human Rights Watch. “It is a vicious attack on women’s rights and on the most basic right to life.”
Local Republicans Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, and Darrell Issa voted for the bill, H.R. 358, while San Diegio Democrats Bob Filner and Susan Davis voted against it.
The bill prohibits any person who receives federal funds for health insurance from buying a comprehensive insurance plan that includes abortion coverage in most cases. However, it goes even further--prohibiting the government from withholding funds from hospitals or other health care institutions that refuse to provide abortions.
Under current law, some 600 Catholic hospitals in the nation that deny abortions on religious grounds even in life-threatening circumstances to the mother are obligated to transfer that patient to a hospital that agrees to perform the required operation. If The Protect Life Act were to pass, this would no longer be the case. Hospitals would be legally permitted to simply do nothing and allow her to die.
In 2009, a Phoenix-based Catholic bishop excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital, for authorizing an abortion for a woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension who was likely to die without the procedure. Thus Catholic physicians and hospital workers have incentives not to help women in these dire circumstances, for fear of facing excommunication from their church.
Potentially life-threatening conditions during pregnancy include serious heart conditions, ectopic pregnancy (in which the egg implants in the fallopian tube and bursts without prompt termination of pregnancy), pre-eclampsia (extreme high blood pressure and protein in urine, which can cause liver damage), and more. A pregnant cancer patient’s s life can also be at risk if she is unable to undergo chemotheraphy, radiation, or in surgery for cancers in the reproductive organs. Accident victims in need of certain emergency surgeries and female patients in comas are other examples where continuing a pregnancy may put a woman's life at risk.
If the bill becomes law “women can die on the floor and healthcare providers do not have to intervene,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Califiornia) said. The bill passed by a 251-170 margin. The measure next heads to the Senate, where only 40 out of 100 Senators are pro-choice. President Barack Obama has indicated he would veto the bill if the Senate approves it.
Even for women whose lives are not immediately in danger from a high-risk pregnancy, barring insurance coverage for abortion, which averages $500-$1,500 in the U.S., could lead some low-income women to resort to “desperate measures that could seriously jeopardize their health and lives,” Human Rights Watch observes.
House Speaker John Boehner defended his party’s support of the bill at his weekly news conference, stating that Republicans were upholding their party’s “Pledge to America.” He observed, “We’re keeping our word to the American people.”
The bill is part of a package of abortion restrictions sought by the GOP in Congress. Others include narrowing the definition of rape and cutting off funds for women’s health services, including access to birth control and other services as well as abortion.
Congressman Hunter, who represents most of East County, has previously authored even more extreme legislation. His proposed measure would outlaw all abortions in the U.S. -- including in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother's life.