MEMO: The Latest Attempt to Restrict Safe, Legal Abortion

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MEMO: The Latest Attempt to Restrict Safe, Legal Abortion

WASHINGTON - It’s becoming increasingly clear that anti-women’s health politicians in Washington are determined to advance their anti-abortion agenda at any cost. The latest example of this obsession is playing out in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) have hijacked an important bipartisan effort to establish greater protections for victims of human trafficking to advance an anti-abortion provision.

This is politics at its worst. On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Senator McConnell went even further, threatening to hold up the important Senate business of confirming Loretta Lynch to serve as U.S. attorney general if the bill does not move forward. Not only is she an eminently qualified nominee to serve as attorney general, but she just happens to have a strong record prosecuting child traffickers.

This is not the first time McConnell and party leadership has played politics with women’s health. In fact, the new Congress has been in session for less than three months, and they've already introduced 23 bills to interfere in a woman’s personal health care decisions — from an unconstitutional ban on abortion at 20 weeks, to medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, to eliminating no-copay birth control for women, to legislation that would block women, men, and young people from coming to Planned Parenthood for care. The list goes on.

And they’ve gotten sneaky. When they know they don’t have the votes to pass these deeply unpopular measures, they’re incorporating anti-abortion language into otherwise unrelated bills.

  • Education. Last month, House Republicans included anti-abortion language in their new education bill (ESEA). The languagefinancially penalizes school districts that allow school-based health centers to provide information about abortion to pregnant high school students. This provision ties the hands of health care professionals in schools, and denies teens access to important and basic information about their health care options. 
  • 20 Week Ban. On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, politicians in Congress caused a firestorm over an unconstitutional bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks. When Republican leadership couldn't get Party consensus, they instead introduced and passed another bill that undermines a woman’s ability to make personal health care decisions. Senator Lindsey Graham — incredulously — boiled the strategic misdirection down to a definitional problem, saying: "I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape."

If politicians in Congress and in state legislatures across the country are serious about reducing the need for abortion, they should increase investments in programs that are proven to work — including sex education and access to the full range of affordable birth control.

  • The teen pregnancy rate is at the lowest level in nearly 40 years. However, 615,000 teen girls still get pregnant every year and it is still one of the highest rates among the most developed countries in the world.
  • We know that 86 percent of the decline in teen pregnancies through 2002 was a result of improved contraceptive use and the use of more effective contraceptive methods among sexually active teenagers, and 14 percent of this decline was attributable to increased abstinence.

The reality remains that Americans want abortion to remain safe and legal. Why else would Senator McConnell and his allies sneak them into otherwise unrelated bills?

  • Nearly 80 percent of the American public wants to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal. By double digits, voters in South Dakota have twice rejected ballot initiatives that would have banned abortion. So-called personhood ballot initiatives were rejected in November by large majorities in both Colorado and in North Dakota, where voters also defeated one of the bills’ key sponsors. That’s because despite what some politicians and pundits might say — access to reproductive health care is not a partisan issue.
  • When Americans understand the real-world impact of 20-week bans, a solid 60 percent of voters oppose them. A strong majority of voters — Republicans (62 percent), Democrats (78 percent), and Independents (71 percent) — say this is the wrong issue for Congress and their state legislators to be spending time on.

In a statement on Sunday, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said the following about the human trafficking bill, up for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday:

"The provision that Senator McConnell so dismissively and cavalierly referred to as 'boilerplate' hurts women across the country, denying those struggling to make ends meet from accessing safe and legal abortion. What McConnell calls ‘boilerplate’ is policy that disproportionately harms low-income women and women of color.  Not only would the trafficking bill apply that harmful provision to women who have been victims of trafficking, but it would go even farther in restricting new funding....”

The anti-abortion restriction forces women and girls in an already vulnerable situation to confront more barriers, rather than less, to the health care they need. The provision that was added to this previously bipartisan bill expands the Hyde Amendment. 

  • As a 2012 Ibis report detailed, the existing exceptions under the Hyde Amendment are ineffective, with over 40 percent of eligible abortions — that is, of pregnancies due to rape or incest or in cases where continuing the pregnancy would threaten the woman's life — conducted for Medicaid beneficiaries were not reimbursed by the program.
  • In a survey of sex trafficking victims, more than half reported having had abortions, according to a report co-written by Laura J. Lederer, a former senior advisor to the U.S. Department of State.
  • Seven in ten women surveyed said they had at least one pregnancy while trafficked, and one-fifth of respondents reported five or more pregnancies.
  • The women polled in the study also reported being forced to have sex with an average of 13 “buyers” a day.
  • As many as six in ten women and girls who come across the U.S. border are raped along the dangerous journey, according to an Amnesty International survey.
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Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is many things to many people. We are a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital health care services, sex education, and sexual health information to millions of women, men, and young people.

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