Though Rep. Tim Murphy's new bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, was picked apart during an almost three-hour congressional hearing Tuesday, discussion surrounding the law revealed common ground.
During shared stories about the devastation of mental illness on families and the strides made in recent years, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) opposed a reference in Murphy's proposed law pertaining to abortion. But the exact same language appears in a different bill that Schakowsky has co-sponsored.
In a section discussing students receiving medication, there is a paragraph in Murphy's measure which reads: “PROHIBITION—Funds appropriated to carry out this section, Section 527, or Section 529 shall not be used to pay for or refer for abortion.”
Schakowsky, during the Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee hearing, called this paragraph a provision that would “guarantee increased mental anguish,” and described it as part of a dangerous precedent of including anti-abortion language in bills that have nothing to do with reproductive rights.
“I am very concerned that we are unnecessarily seeing anti-abortion language included in this bill,” she said. “We do not need to attach this kind of restrictive language on programs that help to prevent suicide and provide transitional housing for people with mental illness.”
Murphy later noted that the language is part of another bill, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2015, introduced in the Senate on May 12 by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) as S. 1299. The bill was named after the son of former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). It funds suicide prevention programs and was first passed in 2004.
“It's Sen. Reed's legislation,” Murphy said, noting that the language in his bill is identical to the wording contained in the measure proposed by Reed.
A House version with identical language had been introduced earlier in the year by Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) as H.R. 938. Schakowsky signed on as a co-sponsor on Feb. 24 even though it included the same anti-abortion provision.
When Schakowsky was asked why she would co-sponsor a bill that contained language she objected to, she replied that “suicide prevention is extremely important” to her so she supported the reauthorization.
“However, I have serious concerns with one provision in the legislation,” Schakowsky told Modern Healthcare. “The reauthorization of this legislation has been referred to the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, on which I serve. If it were offered in its current form, I would introduce an amendment to strip this provision. Meanwhile, I will keep working to raise awareness of the potential impact of this language and work to remove provisions limiting choice from any legislation that moves through the House.”
Murphy, meanwhile, is optimistic about his current revision of a bill he first introduced after the Sandy Hook school shootings. The previous iteration of the bill was opposed because of its provisions on involuntary treatment and proposed cuts to programs run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Murphy, a psychologist who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said of Tuesday's House hearing: “We're actually working together—maybe that's the news.”