Pro-Choice DeGette launches ‘Women’s Health Wednesday’ in Congress

In response to the slew of anti-abortion bills introduced on Capitol Hill over the last two years, Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette has launched “Women’s Health Wednesday,” where beginning today House members will deliver rapid-fire one-minute speeches exploring the issue on the floor of the chamber.

“[It’s] an opportunity to take a stand against the unceasing attacks on women’s health care levied by the Leadership of the House of Representatives and their colleagues in the U.S. Senate,” DeGette’s office said in a release.

The speeches begin at noon in Washington and will be streamed live on C-Span. Women’s Health Wednesdays will run until the end of the year.

DeGette, head of the congressional pro-choice caucus, has been a lead opponent of the anti-abortion legislation that has featured as a top priority in the Republican-dominated 112th Congress, which opened in January of last year and will end in January of 2013. Because abortion is legal in the United States, the bills have sought to limit access to the medical procedure by cutting back on women’s reproductive health services generally, by slashing federal funds for Planned Parenthood clinics, for instance, and limiting insurance coverage for full-range family planning and contraception.

In an extended floor exchange on a bill called the “Protect Life Act” last October, DeGette said she felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a world “where logic has been turned on its head.”

“When I listen to this debate, it’s really clear to me that the proponents of this bill, their main concern is not federal funding of abortion,” she said. “Their main concern is they want abortion to be illegal, and so here’s my view– having debated this now for 15 years in this body– here’s my view: If the majority wants to pass a bill banning abortion, pass a bill banning abortion, and we’ll fight it out in the courts. Don’t make claims that there is somehow federal funding for abortion when in fact there is none in order to confuse the issues and to try to confuse the American public.”

Today, in her inaugural Women’s Health Wednesday speech, DeGette plans to address birth control as “critical preventive care,” as she put it in the release sent out this morning.

“Ninety-nine percent of women have used birth control at some point in their life and 15 million of them use it for non-contraceptive purposes,” it reads. “The Institute of Medicine made a scientific determination that access to contraception is a critical component of preventive women’s health care.”

Abortion-policy analysts have said Republicans last year effectively ended the truce that has existed for decades among lawmakers regarding public funding for abortion. Federal funding is now and has been for years restricted to pregnancies that endanger the mother’s life or that come as the product of rape and/or incest.

The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” introduced in the first wave of legislation last year by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), set the bar with provisions meant to eliminate tax breaks on insurance policies that cover abortions, permanently prohibit tax-funded abortions across all federal programs, like Medicaid, and end funding for abortions in Washington D.C.

The bill originally aimed to recast the definition of “rape” in order to lower the number of pregnancies eligible for funding. Smith proposed that only “forcible” rape pregnancies would fall into the funding category. “Forcible” rape is not a legal term, however, and so the bill seemed designed to rule out statutory rape, date rape, rapes of drugged victims and so on. The provision caused an uproar among groups that asked what kind of rape there is other than “forcible” and the language was ultimately stripped from the bill.