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Barbara Alvarez: Ron Johnson should approve budget without anti-abortion provisions

Barbara Alvarez: Ron Johnson should approve budget without anti-abortion provisions

Sen. Ron Johnson should follow the science and vote for a congressional budget bill without harmful anti-abortion amendments.

For the first time in 45 years, the House of Representatives has passed a federal budget excluding the draconian Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Both of these appropriations riders severely restrict abortion access to women throughout the country, including in Wisconsin. The Hyde Amendment, first proposed by Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, denies affordable abortion care to low-income women on Medicaid (one in five women in the United States), as well as those on the Indian Health Services Plan and in the Peace Corps, unless their state is one of the few to cover such care. The Weldon Amendment, initially introduced in 2005, unwisely allows health care providers to refuse to cover, provide, pay or refer someone for an abortion based on “religious or moral grounds.”

It is heartening to see this historic moment. However, the work is far from over. As the spending package enters the Senate, it is sure to face major pushback from religious extremists and anti-abortion legislators, including Johnson. When I asked about how he plans to vote (it is pretty clear, to be honest, about where Johnson stands on the issue), his office replied that “in the past he’s been pro-life.”

“Pro-life” is a curious label to apply to a legislator who described the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection as little more than a “peaceful protest” and refuses to get the COVID vaccine despite nearly 9,000 deaths in Wisconsin and 687,000 deaths nationwide.

Following science doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for Johnson, though. If it were, he would approve the federal budget without the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. After all, research has shown that abortion restrictions jeopardize women’s health, safety and well-being. Additionally, women who are denied abortions because of exorbitant prices or unscientific legislation like the Hyde and Weldon Amendments have poorer overall health than women who were able to obtain abortions.

We are seeing this in Wisconsin. It callously dropped virtually all state abortion coverage for low-income women back in the late 1970s, creating untold hardship. As one of 33 states that do not provide abortion care under the Hyde Amendment, health inequalities are exacerbated here. Maternal health in Wisconsin is among the poorest in the nation and maternal mortality for Black women is five times higher than for white women. Instead of denying comprehensive reproductive health care, we should be expanding it.

Studies have shown that abortion is extremely safe and that major complications from abortions occur in less than one fourth of 1% of abortions. Indeed, 99% of women who have abortions do not regret it. Furthermore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization of approximately 56,000 members, recommends eliminating the Hyde Amendment and removing government restrictions on training programs and funding for abortion care.

Sen. Johnson needs to do the right thing and approve the federal budget without the Hyde and Weldon Amendments.

Barbara Alvarez is the first Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based national nonprofit with over 35,000 members and several chapters across the country.

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