When you hear the Republican majority talk about “liberty,” watch out. Because they just may be referring to the liberty of employers, health insurers, or the federal government to intrude into Americans’ most personal health choices.
Throughout the fiscal 2017 appropriations process, the Republican majority has deepened considerably its longstanding fixation with restricting access to reproductive health services. Empowering these unprecedented intrusions imperils enactment of responsible spending bills and invades Americans’ personal liberty to make their own health choices as never before.
The financial services spending bill passed by House Republicans on July 7 would bar funds for the District of Columbia to enforce its 2014 Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Amendment Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against employees — male or female — based on their reproductive health choices. D.C. residents should not have to worry that their choice to terminate a pregnancy, to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a child, or even to use contraception, will result in their being fired or denied a job.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee endorsed a Labor-HHS-Education bill that would allow any health insurer, or any employer sponsoring health insurance, to deny coverage of any service to which it has a “moral or religious objection.” The damage this language would do to American families’ health coverage is breathtaking. It could be used to exclude coverage of contraception, fertility treatments, and testing for HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases; or even services not related to reproductive health like vaccinations or blood transfusions.
The Labor-HHS-Education bill would also place a poison pill caveat on efforts to make in vitro fertilization benefits available for service members and wounded veterans. It would make these earned benefits contingent on permanent preservation of unused embryos created during the course of an IVF, denying couples the right to decide the matter for themselves, and foreclosing on the possibility of life-saving stem cell research. How dare members of Congress substitute their own judgment in such a private family matter for soldiers, veterans and their spouses who receive these services?
Lastly, the bill would eliminate all Title X family planning funding, once again putting politics above women’s health. Such dangerous and discriminatory policies would make it more difficult for low-income women to access cancer screenings, lead to more abortions, and increase Medicaid costs.
Even emergency funding to combat a public health crisis is not immune from the Republican majority’s determination to restrict Americans’ reproductive choices.
Four months after President Obama requested emergency funds to mount a robust response to the Zika virus, the Republican majority advanced a partisan conference report that would bar funds from private health providers that offer contraceptive and family planning services — the very entities that are most capable of reaching underserved areas in Puerto Rico hit hardest by the outbreak.
It boggles the mind that the majority would make access to contraceptive services more difficult at home and abroad, in response to a virus that can spread through sexual transmission.
In their zeal to restrict the reproductive health choices of women and men, the Republican majority empowers the federal government to take on just the sort of aggressive and invasive role in people’s private lives that conservatives have traditionally railed against.
Democrats will never agree to the federal government intruding into individuals’ personal reproductive health choices in these ways. In order to enact responsible spending bills, the Republican majority must abandon this fevered obsession.
Lowey, who represents New York's 17th Congressional District, is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.