There may be no more amorphous political phrase in the English language than “taxpayer-funded abortion.” The term originally appeared along with the Hyde Amendment to prevent insurance from covering the abortion procedures of Medicaid patients. But the expression has since blossomed into a hodgepodge of exaggerated definitions, especially within the last few years of anti-abortion legislation.
In Kansas, the legislature used the term to close every tax loophole that could conceivably allow a person to write off any aspect of an abortion or education. And in Ohio, they insisted that taxpayer-funded abortion justified forbidding university or public hospitals from offering transfer agreements to doctors who worked in abortion clinics.
Conservatives have long claimed any funding going to an entity that offers abortion along with contraception and other sexual health services is simply “freeing up” money to be used for terminations, thereby inadvertently forcing taxpayers to fund the procedure. The federal government has even tried to eliminate all abortion coverage in any insurance plans that would receive subsidies under Obamacare in order to “protect” people from being forced to fund abortions.
But just when it seemed that the definition had been stretched further than anyone could ever imagine, abortion opponents are at it again. This time their target is funding from states or cities that could potentially be used to open new reproductive health centers. Or, as the GOP is putting it, “abortion bonds.”
“Abortion bonds” is the new moniker offered by North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Tea Party Republican. He’s perhaps best known for telling people with pre-existing conditions who would lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act were repealed that maybe they should just move.
According to Pittenger, cities and states have been allowing Planned Parenthood to use local bonds — very low interest loans offered to businesses and entities that will benefit the area economically or socially — in order to build new clinics. These “abortion bonds” then force unsuspecting taxpayers to subsidize abortion because the interest payments on the bonds are tax exempt, meaning the clinic receives a tax break by using them.
It’s that tax break that Pittenger insists must come to an end — regardless of how small of an advantage the clinics may be getting or how minuscule the alleged subsidies might be.
“Overall, the federal government lost $29 billion in revenue in 2014 to exempt bonds, according to the Tax Policy Center,” writes the Washington Times. “Planned Parenthood facilities are an infinitesimal fraction of that total, but the principle at stake, Mr. Pittenger said, is the use of taxpayers’ money. ‘The intent is to close a loophole in the tax code that allows for them to finance their clinics,’ he said.”
And of course, the principle is being embraced by a number of anti-abortion action groups hoping that the “death by a thousand paper cuts” attempts at ending abortion may eventually have some effect.
“Jennifer Popik, director of federal legislation at National Right to Life, said Planned Parenthood receives taxpayer dollars and other forms of support through numerous government streams, and Pittenger’s legislation would help cut off one avenue of support,” reports Lifenews. “‘This is a good small step here,’ Popik told the Times. “This isn’t defunding Planned Parenthood, this isn’t defunding large abortion providers, but this is one thing we can show we’re moving in a positive direction.'”
Pittenger predicts that his legislation will be added to the already immense and unpopular new tax code revamp that the GOP is currently drafting. And that means it’s likely to be passed with a very slim Republican majority, as they continue to push legislation via the reconciliation process. It is also unlikely to be the only attempt at defunding Planned Parenthood, changing tax exemptions around abortion services or otherwise restricting the constitutional right to choose.
But while “abortion bonds” may seem like a small deal in the grand scheme of attacks on abortion rights, in reality it shows the endless lengths the right will go to in order to isolate and ostracize abortion.
For now conservatives are blocking every piece of tax code “for the principle” of it. But what if they decide that having police prevent protesters from violating FACE is forcing taxpayers to fund abortion? Or that a city fire department can’t respond to a call at a clinic, or roads can’t be repaired in front of one? Or even worse, that a hospital doesn’t have to take in a patient on the very rare occasion that there is a complication during a procedure?
“Taxpayer-funded abortion” has always been a slippery slope definition, and now the ground has crumbled out from underneath it all together. “Abortion bonds” may allegedly just be about “the principle” to Pittenger, but the argument shows the rest of us the right’s dedication to making clinics completely inaccessible once and for all.
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