H.R. 358, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and also known as the Protect Life Act, is being debated in the House today. The vote will be a symbolic one, because even if it passes the bill will be DOA in the Senate.  The provision that's getting most of the attention, and rightly so, is the one that says no hospital would be obligated to perform an abortion under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals to treat and stabilize people in medical emergencies.

When this bill first came up in the spring, I talked to Brian Bosak, a legislative aide in Rep. Pitts' office. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Bosak does not look at this as a question of valuing women less than their children. He believes that the conflict between the two is a manufactured one, and that pro-life doctors will treat both the mother and child as patients and act in the best interests of both of them as much as possible. That's a great ideal, and I have no doubt that many doctors do exactly that, but the fact is that this bill would permit doctors to do otherwise. It fails to safeguard women's lives — and for what? You can't protect the life of an unborn child whose mother is dead.

We talked about cases when, say, a woman comes in with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and the embryo must be removed immediately. He said that the Catholic doctrine of double effect would allow for the treatment of ectopic pregnancy even though that would inevitably result in the death of a child. A lot of people don't even consider that an abortion. I replied that yes, that's the doctrine, but not everyone interprets it the same way. Oh yeah, and not everybody is Catholic. If a woman is experiencing a medical emergency, is she supposed to pick a hospital where she's sure the doctors believe in the doctrine of double effect and interpret it the same way Rep. Pitts and his staff do?

Bosak told me, "There has never been a case where a doctor refused an abortion and a woman died." As far as I've found, that's true — at least in the U.S. — but that's no guarantee of what people will do in the future. Also, I'm wondering about the converse: has a hospital ever been forced to perform an abortion (or a procedure that it may or may not consider an abortion, such as treatment of ectopic pregnancy) under EMTALA? If not, and if doctors really will perform abortions in those cases where they are medically necessary to save a woman's life, then what is the impetus for this provision? Just to say "you can't require doctors to do what they'll do anyway?" Doesn't sound right.

I felt that Bosak was not ill-intentioned, but that he was looking at the issue in a very abstract way. Arguments on paper are all well and good, but he didn't understand — and I couldn't get across to him — what it would be like to be a woman who knows how badly pregnancy can go, looking at this law and wondering if it might mean your death.

Comments

  1. Gwendolyn Cameron says:

    Hey Jen, am I missing something?  I couldn't find anything in the text of the bill about being able to deny abortions to women with medical needs.

    Was it an amendment?


    Here's the bill

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h112-358

    And here's all that I could find

    (c) Limitation on Abortion Funding-

    ‘(1) IN GENERAL- No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), including credits applied toward qualified health plans under section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or cost-sharing reductions under section 1402 of this Act, may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except–

    ‘(A) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or

    ‘(B) in the case where a pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

     

     

  2. Gwendolyn Cameron says:

    Maybe this part?  Is the issue with this "conscience clause?"

    ‘(g) Nondiscrimination on Abortion-

     

    ‘(1) NONDISCRIMINATION- A Federal agency or program, and any State or local government that receives Federal financial assistance under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), may not subject any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination, or require any health plan created or regulated under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) to subject any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination, on the basis that the health care entity refuses to–

    ‘(A) undergo training in the performance of induced abortions;

    ‘(B) require or provide such training;

    ‘(C) perform, participate in, provide coverage of, or pay for induced abortions; or

    ‘(D) provide referrals for such training or such abortions.

  3. It’s very obscure, but this line:

    “(D) in paragraph (2)(A), by striking ‘Nothing’ and inserting ‘Subject to subsection (g), nothing’”

    creates an abortion exception to EMTALA, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/fact-sheet-emergency-services-protect-life-act.cfm

    Mr. Bosak also agreed with me when we spoke that abortion was being exempted from EMTALA. That's definitely the intent of that amendment.

  4. Gwendolyn Cameron says:

    Thanks!