Republicans in the U.S. House last month passed a measure intended to ban abortion coverage from plans available through the Affordable Care Act. But House Resolution 7, the so-called No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, appears destined to fail. The Senate is not expected to take up the resolution, which House Democrats have dismissed as a needless attempt by the GOP to pander to religious conservatives, and President Barack Obama says he'll veto the measure if it ever does reach his desk. Even with its fate determined, HR 7 and what it represents is still primed to influence the 2014 Senate race in Montana due to one of its cosponsors: Rep. Steve Daines.
Proponents of HR 7 argue that tax credit subsidies offered to certain individuals and small businesses through the ACA equate to government spending in violation of the Hyde Amendment, a rider attached to the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill in 1976 that prevented the government from funding abortion through Medicaid.
"Like the majority of Americans, Steve believes that taxpayer dollars should not be used to support abortion services," Daines spokesperson Alee Lockman said in an email response to questions this week. "He supported and voted for HR 7 because it codifies into permanent law the Hyde Amendment and other appropriations riders that prevent the utilization of federal taxpayer funds for abortions and closed the loophole in the tax code that allowed for 'subsidization' of policies that include elective abortion coverage."
The bill makes an exception for abortions "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest" or if the procedure is necessary in preserving the mother's life.
Daines' office downplays the ramifications of HR 7 on women in Montana, claiming it would have "no impact" on funding for current coverage and would only apply to insurance plans offered for 2015 and beyond. At that point, Montanans receiving subsidies through the ACA would be required to use private funds to purchase abortion coverage riders for those plans. The same goes for small businesses, which would only be eligible for tax credits for employee insurance plans if those plans do not cover elective abortion.
Democrats and pro-choice groups have decried HR 7 as a propaganda-fueled attack on women's rights, and are quick to point out that the ACA already contains a provision requiring an extra monthly surcharge to cover abortionmoney that insurers are then directed to segregate. Stacey Anderson, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, says she isn't sure what Republicans are trying to accomplish with the measure, unless the goal is to "dismantle" what they already negotiated for in the ACA.
"They're saying even women's own money cannot be used for the health care that they need," she says.
Daines' office refers to the ACA-established surcharge as an "accounting gimmick" that "does little to alleviate the fact that taxpayer funds subsidize plans covering abortion." Lockman adds that part of the HR 7 push is to bring more transparency to which plans offer elective abortion coverage and how much those surcharges cost.
Anderson says the stakes are "enormous" for women's reproductive health care in the next few electoral cycles. Religious organizations have already challenged the Obama administration's ability to enforce the ACA's contraceptive mandate, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court last month to temporarily block the provision. More than 20 states have individually banned coverage of abortion by health care plans on the exchanges, a measure that Republican lawmakers in the Montana Legislature have tried twice. The first attempt was vetoed in 2011 by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer. A similar bill in 2013 died in committee.
"At the national level, all it takes is a couple of Senate votes or a different president to suddenly have a ban of any insurance product covering abortion care," Anderson says. "There's a lot of rhetoric out there. No woman plans to have an abortion. But it is part of our health care if that's where she finds herself to be."
Anderson adds that Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana plans to do "as much as we possibly can to make sure Steve Daines does not go to the U.S. Senate."
Daines' position against abortion has attracted powerful allies in the past. The conservative nonprofit Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Daines in 2012 and contributed $5,000 to his congressional campaign. The nonprofit National Right to Life Committee spent an additional $15,522 on third-party radio ads in 2012 supporting Daines' candidacy. In addition, during his brief Senate challenge against Sen. Jon TesterDaines later switched to the House racethe anti-abortion Concerned Women Political Action Committee threw its weight behind Daines. Politico quoted a spokesman for Concerned Women at the time explaining the endorsement came after the PAC's president and CEO, Penny Nance, met Daines at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser.
Concerned Women PAC's legislative arm, Concerned Women for America, sent letters to members of Congress last month supporting HR 7. So did the NRLC, which claimed that "over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment." When asked, Lockman said she didn't believe Daines had received any such letters prior to his HR 7 vote.