Another GOP Anti-Abortion Bill Tampers With Women's Access To Emergency Care

February 07, 2011 4:21 pm ET — Kate Conway

Rep. Joe Pitts

Just days after the GOP went scrambling to remove controversial "forcible rape" language from H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," yet another Republican-sponsored abortion rights rollback has garnered attention.

On its surface the "Protect Life Act," like H.R. 3, would enact additional barriers to federal abortion funding. Yet like the buried "forcible rape" language in H.R. 3, the "Protect Life Act" also contains stealthy provisions that represent an even greater incursion on women's reproductive rights.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and sporting 100 (mostly Republican) cosponsors, prevents the government from denying funding to any federally supported hospital or clinic "that refuses to perform, participate in, provide coverage of, or pay for induced abortions." That opens the door to allowing federally funded hospitals to turn away from their emergency rooms women at risk of dying if they don't obtain an emergency abortion. Here's some background from Talking Points Memo:

Currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA -- but they do have to stabilize them and provide them with emergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can't provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.

In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. ... Pitts' new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren't willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn't have to -- nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

A spokesman for Pitts dismissed concerns about the potential severity of the bill's effects. "NARAL and other abortion rights groups have vigorously opposed any conscience protection legislation," said the spokesman. "It is no surprise that they would attack the Protect Life Act with the same old talking points."

Some statutes codifying the rights of providers to refuse to perform certain services (usually related to reproductive health) contrary to their moral or religious positions already exist, but "conscience protection" falls short as a justification for Pitts' bill. The "Protect Life Act" would mean that taxpayer dollars could help pay the salaries of radically anti-choice hospital staff who elect to watch a woman die rather than perform a life-saving procedure.