It’s “mark-up” season for the U.S. House of Representatives committee that puts together the legislation to fund the federal government’s work: Draft bills are amended and get committee sign off before all members of the House get to vote on them. Up today is this year’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill.
The draft bill has a lot of problems—including a range of attacks on women’s reproductive healthcare. There will be many amendments offered to try to repair some of the damage, and this morning, we urged committee members to support two of them. We expect Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) to offer amendments that would ensure that religion is not used as an excuse to harm women and their families.
The Wasserman Schultz amendment would strip a dangerous provision from the bill. The provision, seeking to enact the so-called Conscience Protection Act, would jeopardize women’s ability to access comprehensive health insurance coverage for abortion or even information about abortion as a treatment option in an emergency. The provision would permit any “health care provider” to use religion as an excuse to refuse to perform or even facilitate, make arrangements for, provide coverage for, or otherwise participate in abortion. But here’s the catch: this includes your insurance company, your boss, the administrative assistant at your doctor’s office, and many, many others.
The Lowey amendment would prohibit the use of federal funds to make changes to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. Currently, the ACA requires most health insurance plans to cover contraception. According to media reports, the Trump administration is considering new regulations that would allow any employer or university, even for-profit corporations, to use religion as an excuse to completely deny their employees and students contraceptive coverage. The Lowey amendment would stop the Trump rules.
Religious freedom is a fundamental right. So is the right to make decisions for yourself about your own healthcare. When women lose access to essential healthcare, women’s health and equality suffer. Discrimination disguised as “religious freedom” is still discrimination. That’s why we urged the committee members to support the Wasserman Schultz and Lowey amendments.