The poorly-named ‘Protect Life Act’

THE POORLY-NAMED ‘PROTECT LIFE ACT’…. Maybe Republicans interpreted the midterm election results as a sweeping mandate to focus on abortion? The party that apparently has no interest in job creation seems to be spending quite a bit of energy on the culture-war issue.

After holding a symbolic vote on gutting the health care system, House Republican leaders announced that their next top priority was the odious “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” At the state level, there’s an aggressive Republican push to limit reproductive options.

And now we have the “Protect Life Act.”

First, a little context. Under existing law, American hospitals have to treat everyone — or at a minimum, stabilize them — regardless of their ability to pay. If the facility can’t provide treatment, it must transfer a patient to a hospital that can, and then that hospital is required to provide care.

Republican Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania has a new idea related to a question that few ever ask: what happens when a patient requires an emergency abortion to save her life? Pitts wants to empower hospitals to simply let the woman die.

The bill, known currently as H.R. 358 or the “Protect Life Act,” is an amendment to the 2010 health care reform law that would modify the way Obamacare deals with abortion coverage. Much of its language is modeled on the so-called Stupak Amendment, an anti-abortion provision pro-life Democrats attempted to insert into the reform law during the health care debate last year. But critics say a new section of the bill inserted into the language just this week would go far beyond Stupak, allowing hospitals that receive federal funds but are opposed to abortions to turn away women in need of emergency pregnancy termination to save their lives. […]

Pitts’ new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren’t willing in terminating pregnancies wouldn’t have to — nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

The hospital could literally do nothing at all, pro-choice critics of Pitts’ bill say.

Now, as a practical matter, this effort has the same problem most of the ideas coming from House Republicans have — the Senate almost certainly won’t support it, and President Obama would quickly reject it if the measure were to reach his desk. A bill like the “Protect Life Act” is pretty outrageous on its face, but even its proponents know it won’t have a shot until Republicans control Congress and the White House again.

The point, though, is that a measure like this one reflects the values and priorities of the GOP officials who support — the bill currently has 100 co-sponsors, not including Pitts — which is scary enough.

And in the larger context, it’s also a reminder that Republicans have badly misread their mandate if they see 2011 as a valuable opportunity to roll back women’s reproductive rights.