Thursday, January 20, 2011

But the Symbolism!

House Speaker John Boehner just announced via twitter that the Republicans have introduced a bill to eliminate federal funding for abortions, calling the push one of their "highest priorities". So far, google news counts 141 related stories on this story. Speaker Boehner and fellow Republicans might want to brush up on their US Code however; the regulation they are attempting to pass is already enshrined in federal law. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of any federal money disbursed as part of the Health and Human services budget from paying for elective abortions.

Perhaps the forthcoming legislation will not be redundant, but will provide restrictions that go beyond the Hyde Amendment. One place where Republicans might attempt to prevent pregnancy terminations is in military hospital facilities. The current controlling US Code on the subject reads:
[1] U.S. Code Title 10 USC Sec 1093
(a) Restriction on Use of Funds – funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.

(b) Restriction on Use of Facilities – No medical treatment facility or other facility of the Department of Defense may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest
If the Republicans are serious about preventing any federally-funded abortions, they are putting the health women in the military at risk, who may not have access to civilian facilities. They will also endanger the lives of civilians that military doctors may treat in the field, prohibiting the US military from performing life-saving operations that build good will with the local population.

It is unclear whether the Speaker Boehner merely wants to restate the law of the land or whether House Republicans intend to hamper the military hospital system's ability to serve our soldiers and the ability to reach out to local populations. Either the GOP is pursuing literally symbolic policies that will not change the status quo or they will create unbelievably stupid changes. Attempting to handcuff military doctors violates the rights of patients in military hospitals as well as the constitutional right to access to life-saving medical care that has been upheld even as the core of Roe v. Wade has been chipped away by subsequent decisions.

Republicans are placing a larger emphasis on a symbolic affirmation of the status quo than they are on creating jobs, monitoring the economy, cutting the deficit, investigating the causes of the financial crisis, addressing global warming, dealing with the Mexican drug war, fixing the immigration system, confirming federal judges, or anything else that actually requires government attention. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives today dedicated itself to purely symbolic action when the nation remains in a deep job funk. I can't wait to find out what other symbolism is on Speaker Boehner's "highest priorities" list. Perhaps he'll push to restate the legal availability of assault weapons or fight to make English the primary language in the United States. We do know that whatever the Republican priorities are, they won't be focused on creating a better climate for American businesses, a fairer playing field for American workers, or anything that actually affect Americans.

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