No more abortions?

Tucked into the $338-billion appropriations bill Congress approved last week was something called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, an Orwellian title if there ever was one. The bill, which was quietly inserted by the Republican majority, does not protect women seeking abortions from discrimination. On the contrary, the act actually legalizes discrimination, allowing any hospital, physician or health insurer to refuse to perform or pay for abortions—or even to tell pregnant women of the option.

That could have a huge impact, especially in rural communities, where any hospital chief could order an end to abortions in his or her facility. And it allows an employer to select a health insurer that doesn’t pay for employees’ abortions.

Slowly but surely the edifice of rights and services on which women’s access to abortion depends is being destroyed. In April President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which let federal prosecutors bring separate homicide charges if a pregnant woman and her fetus are killed. Ordinarily murder is a state crime, so clearly the real purpose of the act is to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs.

Last year Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a bill that has since been ruled unconstitutional by three federal judges. Appeals are pending. Nobody disagrees that partial-birth abortions are grisly procedures, but the truth is that they occur rarely and almost always because of fetal anomalies or because the mother’s life is in danger.

There’s more: A gag order the president signed shortly after taking office prohibits family-planning agencies from even mentioning the abortion option, under penalty of loss of funding. And the new “Non-Discrimination Act” allows health corporations to impose that same gag order on doctors and nurses.

A peek into the legislative pipeline reveals that dozens more such bills are on their way. Even if Roe vs. Wade isn’t overturned, women will soon find it even harder to get abortions—for the reason that, the way things are going, the service simply won’t be available.