The Hill: GOP fires first shots in 2011 abortion battle

This article originally appeared online at The Hill on January 20, 2011.

GOP fires first shots in 2011 abortion battle
By Julian Pecquet – 01/20/11

House Republicans on Thursday introduced two bills that seek to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions, the opening salvo in what’s sure to become a bitter political dispute.

“A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference, “and it ought to be the [law] of the land.”

Anti-abortion groups immediately praised the legislation, while Planned Parenthood said it would penalize people with healthcare plans that cover abortions by taking away their tax deduction.

“Republicans took control of Congress on a promise to create jobs, but instead, one of their first acts is to take away health insurance benefits that the majority of women currently have,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement. “The true intent … is to end insurance coverage for virtually all abortions, including private insurance coverage that Americans pay for with their own money, even in cases involving the most severe dangers to a woman’s health.”

The first bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, seeks to establish a permanent, government-wide prohibition on federal subsidies for abortion and for healthcare plans that cover abortion. It would make permanent the so-called Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding but must currently be reintroduced every year.

Boehner said the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, is a priority for the GOP. It will be numbered H.R. 3, coming right after the repeal bill that passed the House Wednesday.

Republicans also said they would introduce the Protect Life Act, which seeks to rewrite provisions of the healthcare reform law to ensure that it does not allow for taxpayer funding of abortion. The bill is modeled after an amendment to the House reform bill introduced by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that didn’t make it into the final law.

“When the healthcare reform bill was signed into law last year, the administration chose to shut their ears to the will of the American people and move forward with a plan to expand abortion access,” said the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).

The Obama administration says a presidential executive order already clarifies that the healthcare reform law doesn’t allow for federal funding of abortions. But concerns have already come up with high-risk pools and community health centers funded by the bill.

“Clearly,” Boehner said, “there’s an awful lot of doubt about where the administration really is on this issue.”

Another controversial aspect of the legislation is its so-called conscience protections. The Smith bill would not only protect individual healthcare professionals such as nurses from participating in abortions against their will, but would allow entire hospitals or healthcare plans to refuse to cover the legal procedure. The New Jersey Republican said one issue was healthcare entities with conscience concerns not being able to merge with others unless they agreed to start providing abortions, which Smith called a “shake-down.”

“We define entity very broadly, as it should be,” Smith told The Hill.

NARAL Pro-Choice has vowed to fight the provision.

“It’s not our belief that people should be forced to provide medical services that they oppose,” Policy Director Donna Crane told The Hill earlier this month. “It is our belief that women deserve the services that are appropriate and legal in this country, and that medical corporations have an obligation to provide them.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, is the main Democratic co-sponsor of both bills. He voted Thursday for the Republican House resolution directing committees to start drafting bills to amend the law.

Asked why he didn’t vote for repeal after voting against passage, Lipinski answered, “We all know that repeal is going nowhere.”

“I believe … that we should use the time instead to make changes, make fixes to this law,” he said.

Anti-abortion groups disagree, however, and have warned that they’ll take Lipinski to task for his vote on repeal.

“Anybody who votes against repeal is saying there’s no problem regarding abortion in the bill,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser told The Hill earlier this month. “When you know you’ve got a chance to do the right thing, you don’t put it off.”

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