By Deborah Washington, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
It is amazing what legislators try to pass off as fact in the halls of Congress. During a visit to the Senate building in early March for a markup session on H.R.3 (also known by the misleading name of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act) , I witnessed Republican Representative Trent Franks of Arizona regularly and defiantly state that taxpayers were funders of abortion. Representative Franks had to be repeatedly corrected on his statements by his Democratic constituents. He also made a stunning comment that half of the women who enter abortion clinics end up deceased before exiting the clinic. When pressed for clarification from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, Representative Franks stated that he was referring to the aborted fetuses, half of whom he were sure were females.
Such a manipulative and uninformed statement only serves to incorrectly “educate” certain constituents and members of the public who don’t know any better, or want a means to justify their anti-choice position. I was amused by Representative Franks’ attempt to explain his comments. There was an audible chuckle of disbelief from pro-choice organization reps and advocates throughout the chamber.
What Representative Franks should know is that federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in the extreme cases of rape, incest, and if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. Restrictions that have been in place for more than 30 years, known as the Hyde Amendment, have sharply limited the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion services for low-income women. However, under this amendment, states may use their own funds to pay for abortions for their Medicaid enrollees and 17 states and the District of Columbia currently do so.
The fighting spirit of the Democratic representatives on the issue was impressive, particularly Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and Zoe Lofgren of California. Representative Lofgren gave a particularly impassioned denunciation of Republican attempts to control a woman’s right to choose and stated that it was her job to work to make sure that women’s access to abortion is protected. Representative Wasserman Schultz was extremely outspoken in correcting Representative Franks on his some of his language regarding tax policy on abortion funding and Representative Jackson Lee boldly and frequently cited the Constitution when casting her vote on behalf of amendments that would support women’s right to choose.
These honorable women showed great strength in the face of steady Republican opposition and made sure their voices were heard on behalf of pro-choice women.
To watch a markup process is enlightening, thought-provoking, and actually exciting on occasion, and I would hope that anyone who can take the time to observe such a session would do so.
It is imperative as pro-choice advocates that we understand at least some of the political process, particularly as it pertains to our interests. We need to know why bills are introduced and how legislation is developed, and we need to see our representatives at work. If even in the smallest way, we must be a part of the political process that impacts our lives.