Republicans Hug Big Government in Abortion Fight: Ann Woolner

Among the seemingly bedrock principles that gird conservative policy are these:

The less government involvement in private lives, the better.

The money you earn is yours, not the government’s to decide how much you can have.

And yet some House Republicans now say that whatever money a tax break lets you keep is actually government cash going into your pocket.

Likewise, you might be shocked to learn that while Republicans are directing a multifront assault on a government requirement to buy insurance, these House Republicans want to dictate what kind of coverage Americans can and can’t buy with their own money.

What issue could possibly prompt conservative Republicans to hammer away at bedrock precepts?

Abortion, of course.

Not content with the Hyde Amendment making it impossible for federal money to go for abortions (except in extreme cases), not satisfied with complicated measures enacted to ensure no federal funds indirectly touch privately funded abortions, sponsors of a new bill are trying to use last year’s health-care overhaul to make it even less likely that insurers will offer abortion coverage to anyone.

It’s called the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion bill, but don’t let the title fool you. The measure could curtail privately funded abortions, too.

Voiding Tax Breaks

Sponsored by New Jersey Republican Representative Chris Smith, it would void tax breaks given to companies and the self- employed for insurance premiums on policies that cover abortion. The idea is that by leaving more of your money in your pocket, the government is giving you some of its cash.

Nor could a woman pay premiums for such a policy with pretax, flexible-spending accounts. True, she earned every penny of that money, but if she’s not paying taxes on it, she can’t spend it on something anti-abortionists don’t like.

Smith would also make sure that no one who gets a federal subsidy under the new health-care law could sign up at an insurance exchange for a plan that offers abortion benefits, thus discouraging insurers from offering such policies even to the unsubsidized.

As for abortion riders for people willing and able to pay for the benefit, insurers reported last year that employers tend not to ask for them. It’s one thing to have a policy that covers it along with other unplanned injuries and illnesses, as most insurers do. But apparently not many people pay extra in advance just in case they have an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

Conservative Thought

Given the overblown rhetoric about the “nationalization” of health care, surely Republicans should oppose government dictates on what sort of policy an insurer can provide, an employer can offer and an individual can buy privately.

Where are we, Canada?

And then there’s the fact that this bill would invite the government to intervene in the most intimate of decisions, which should turn conservative thought on its head.

No, that principle, too, gets a blink when the issue is abortion.

I get it that some opponents consider abortion, even some forms of contraception, to be murder. To some, you might as well kill a newborn as use a pill that prevents a zygote -- a fertilized egg smaller than a grain of salt -- from attaching to the uterus.

But that’s theology, not science, and it shouldn’t dictate public policy.

Building Barriers

The Smith bill’s true aim isn’t to prevent taxpayer funding but to take the movement closer to its ultimate goal of ending all abortion.

Anti-abortion forces can’t do that outright because it would be unconstitutional and has been since 1973. But ever since the U.S. Supreme Court so ruled in Roe v. Wade, opponents have been passing state and federal laws to throw as many barriers between women and abortion as courts will allow, while pushing Republican presidents to name judges who will permit more hurdles.

Humiliating gauntlets now greet women seeking even privately funded, early term abortions in many states. A poor woman must somehow scrape together the money, even if the pregnancy endangers her health.

Only if she’s at risk of dying or the victim of rape or incest can Medicaid pay for it, unless she lives in one of the 17 states that let state money pay.

Women at War

For women who put their lives on the line to serve their country in war zones, safe, legal abortions are almost impossible because military hospitals can’t provide them.

That’s how it is already.

With this and other anti-abortion measures on their agenda, House Republicans are undercutting their claim that they want to focus on fiscal restraint and on jobs.

Any characterization of the Smith bill as a cost-saver insults anyone within earshot. It is less expensive to end a pregnancy than to carry it to birth.

As for diverting focus from employment and spending issues, it seems there’s always time to enact another limit on a woman’s right to abortion.

It’s nothing to deviate from an agenda aimed at giving Americans what they most want, which is jobs. Not for those who are willing to ignore basic conservative principle to involve government in more people’s private lives.

Ann Woolner is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Ann Woolner in Atlanta at awoolner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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