House Passes HR 358, the "Let Women Die" Act of 2011

On Thursday, the GOP-led House of Representatives, with the blessings and encouragement of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and extremist religious groups such as the Family Research Council, passed a bill in a vote of 251 to 172 that would, among other things, allow doctors and hospitals to "exercise their conscience" by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die.

Yes. Die.

This is what the Republicans called the "Protect Life Act." And no, I am not kidding.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it what it is... "a savage assault on women's health."

Fifteen Democrats voted for what women's groups are calling the "Let Women Die" Act. These include anti-choice Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Jerry Costello (IL), Mark Critz (PA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Joe Donnelly (IN), Tim Holden (PA), Dan Lipinski (IL), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre (NC), Nick Rahall (WVA), Mike Ross (AR), Collin Petersen (MN), and Heath Shuler (D-NC).

"Extremists prevailed today in the House of Representatives," said Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families, "proving again that they are badly out-of-touch with the majority of Americans who want lawmakers to focus on economic recovery, jobs and promoting, rather than restricting, affordable, quality health care -- not [on] an extreme, anti-woman agenda."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called passage of the bill yet another reminder of how playing politics with women's health and privacy is a priority for Speaker John Boehner.

"Americans are facing real challenges, yet House Speaker John Boehner is ignoring the public's call for Congress to focus on jobs, "said Keenan. "Instead, he is coming up with new ways to give politicians more control over our personal, private decisions. The House's attacks on women's freedom and privacy are out of touch with our nation's values and priorities."

The bill, H.R. 358, about which we have written extensively, revives the earlier failed Stupak amendment, which would force health plans to drop comprehensive coverage in state health insurance exchanges, cutting off millions of women from the benefits they receive today and prevent women from paying for health insurance with abortion coverage with their own money.

H.R. 358 contains other provisions revealing complete disregard for women's health and lives. It permits states to enact sweeping refusal laws that would allow health plans to refuse to cover women's preventive services, including birth control, without cost-sharing -- undoing a new protection under health reform supported by 66 percent of Americans. It also codifies and significantly expands an already expansive refusal clause (also known as the Weldon amendment) without any regard for patient rights or protections. Under current law (through the 2004 Weldon amendment), hospitals, health care facilities, and insurance plans can refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. The Weldon amendment has no protections for patients to ensure they have access to care and information in a timely manner. H.R. 358 codifies this unfair and discriminatory provision. H.R. 358 further allows health care entities--hospitals, clinics--to refuse to "participate in" abortion care. This could mean that a hospital employee with no medical training or role in a patient's treatment decisions could refuse to process bills, handle medical records, or even set up an examination room for a patient seeking abortion care.

And finally, it overrides protections for pregnant women under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. EMTALA was enacted in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay, including women in active labor. Under EMTALA, hospitals must stabilize a pregnant patient who, for example, is facing an emergency obstetric condition or life-threatening pregnancy and either treat her--including an emergency abortion--or if the hospital or staff objects, to transfer her to another facility that will treat her.

H.R. 358 overturns decades of precedent guaranteeing people access to lifesaving emergency care, including abortion care and says its ok that a pregnant woman fighting for her life be left to die.

Read it again. It is that breathtaking.

As Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) stated during floor debate, had this law been in effect 20 years ago she might not be here, because she was one of those women who needed an emergency abortion to save her life.

But the real lives of real women don't seem to be of great concern to the predominantly white male Congress.

"This bill is a collection of dangerous ideas that will undermine women's health," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Most devastating, the bill eliminates protections for patients seeking care in emergency circumstances, and would allow a hospital to deny lifesaving abortion care to a woman, even if a doctor deems it necessary."

President Obama has said he would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk. "The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 358," said the statement of policy put out by the White House, "because, as previously stated in the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3, the legislation intrudes on women's reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today."

"America's women and families are counting on the Senate to reject this measure," said Ness of the National Partnership, "and, if necessary, for President Obama to make good on his promise to veto it."

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