House GOP Proposes So-Called “Let Women Die” Bill That Lets Hospitals Deny Life-Saving Care

In their latest assault on women’s health, this week House Republicans will take up HR 358, the ironically titled “Protect Life Act.” Opponents have rechristened the measure the “Let Women Die” bill because it would allow hospitals that receive federal funds to turn away a woman seeking an abortion in all circumstances, even if an abortion is necessary to save her life:

The House is scheduled to vote this week on a new bill that would allow federally-funded hospitals that oppose abortions to refuse to perform the procedure, even in cases where a woman would die without it.

Under current law, every hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid money is legally required to provide emergency care to any patient in need, regardless of his or her financial situation. If a hospital is unable to provide what the patient needs — including a life-saving abortion — it has to transfer the patient to a hospital that can.

Under H.R. 358, dubbed the “Protect Life Act” and sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), hospitals that don’t want to provide abortions could refuse to do so, even for a pregnant woman with a life-threatening complication that requires a doctor terminate her pregnancy. This provision would apply to the more than 600 Catholic hospitals governed by the Catholic Health Association, which are regulated by bishops and prohibited from performing abortions.

The bill also prohibits federal funds from going to health care plans that cover any abortion services, which might prompt insurers to stop covering abortions. That outcome would disproportionately impact poor women who can’t afford to pay for abortions out of pocket.

Even though the 30-year-old Hyde Amendment already bans taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortions, and numerous “conscience clauses” allow doctors and health care professionals to refuse to perform them, Republicans have insisted that more stringent measures are necessary to ensure, in the words of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), “that no taxpayer dollars flow to health care plans that cover abortion and no health care worker has to participate in abortions against their will.”

Because of its far-reaching consequences for religiously-affiliated hospitals, the bill raises serious questions about the legality of allowing religious figures to determine medical policy for organizations that receive federal money to provide health services for all citizens. “Unfortunately in the Catholic system, someone who’s a bishop, who has no medical qualifications whatsoever, can dictate what a hospital does,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.

Further demonstrating that their “pro-life” moniker is a sham, earlier this year Congress tried to prevent doctors from learning how to perform life-saving abortion procedures that are often necessary when women have incomplete miscarriages.