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In a highly polarized Congress with only 43 of 100 fully pro-choice senators and 175 of 435 fully pro-choice House members, political gridlock in Washington ensued for a third year in a row. The House remained a steadfast opponent of reproductive freedom, while the Senate took a number of steps forward, including the confirmation of two pro-choice judicial nominees. This is particularly noteworthy in a year in which two Supreme Court decisions, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and McCullen v. Coakley, and a number of lower court opinions demonstrated the important role courts play in protecting — or weakening — reproductive freedom.
NARAL Pro-Choice America's 2014 Congressional Record on Choice documents the key House and Senate votes taken during the second session of the 113th Congress. Significant choice-related actions in Congress in 2014 include the following:
- Judicial Nominations: President Obama appointed, and the Senate confirmed, two pro-choice nominees to lifetime seats on federal courts: Pamela Harris and Ronnie White. The majority of nominees President Obama has put forth for federal courts have been similarly highly qualified. Unfortunately, Michael Boggs, a nominee to the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, is not. Boggs has a long record of opposition to reproductive freedom, among other progressive values, and for this reason NARAL Pro-Choice America led the opposition to his nomination. Boggs received a committee hearing, but in the face of strong resistance, thankfully, his confirmation stalled. No further action was taken on the Boggs nomination, and his nomination expired at the end of the 113th Congress.
- "Not My Boss' Business" Bill: Following the Supreme Court's devastating decision in Hobby Lobby, which allowed corporations to deny their employees contraceptive coverage, pro-choice champions responded quickly and introduced the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. This bill would fix the court's decision and ensure that employers cannot interfere with their employees' healthcare coverage. Recognizing the urgency of this issue, Senate leadership put the bill on the floor immediately; although it fell narrowly short of passage, it marked a critical moment in the ongoing fight to preserve the nationwide contraceptive-coverage policy.
- Women's Health Protection Act: In 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first pro-choice legislative hearing in Congress in many years. The bill would establish a new federal protection against many of the antichoice restrictions that have been imposed on women in recent years. While anti-choice legislators and witnesses used the opportunity to tout their false concern for women's safety, pro-choice senators and witnesses focused on the threat to choice posed by the many dangerous restrictions proliferating across the country.
In stark contrast to the Senate's positive actions in 2014, anti-choice lawmakers in the House continued to attack reproductive rights.
- Return of "Stupak on Steroids:" The House passed an extreme anti-choice bill that would ban abortion coverage in state health-insurance exchanges, impose tax penalties on small businesses that provide comprehensive health insurance to their employees, permanently codify abortion bans in government health-insurance programs, and force health plans to make biased, one-sided "disclosures" to consumers about abortion coverage. Unfortunately, the House passed the bill, but notably, more than 40 members joined floor debate against it; the Senate did not take up the legislation.
- Appropriations: Anti-choice House leaders continued to use the budget process to extend restrictions on abortion services that are scattered throughout appropriations bills. In the Financial Services and General Government funding bill, for example, anti-choice lawmakers extended bans on abortion services for women who get their health insurance through the federal and District of Columbia governments, and for women insured through multi-state insurance plans available through the Affordable Care Act. However, in a rare positive move, pro-choice lawmakers in both chambers succeeded in including a provision in the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills to allow abortion services for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. This provision was included in the final spending bill passed into law at the end of the 113th Congress, and its enactment represents a small but welcome step forward.
In short, 2014 was a year of conflict, disagreement, and mixed outcomes on choice issues. As a new Congress takes office and we look ahead to a presidential election in 2016, NARAL Pro-Choice America will continue to defend against attacks and to lead with a pro-choice agenda that ensures reproductive freedom for generations of Americans to come.