Politico: Abortion battle heats up

This article orginally appeared online at Politico on February 7, 2011.

Abortion battle heats up
By: Sarah Kliff

A pair of House hearings on abortion legislation has riled forces on both sides of the issue, particularly supporters of abortion rights, who are gearing up for a fierce fight.

This afternoon EMILY’s List will publish a piece co-authored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Kirsten Gillibrand denouncing the legislation. The opinion piece, previewed exclusively to POLITICO, will be the first time EMILY’s List has featured a male author on their site.

“This week, the GOP House is considering H.R.3, a bill so restrictive it would limit a woman’s access to reproductive care even when her life was in danger,” the two senators write. “We know a woman’s right to make her own health decisions must be protected. But this is about even more than choice, this is about making sure women and families can get the care they need when they need it.”

The House Judiciary’s constitution subcommittee will take up, H.R. 3 which is Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act on Tuesday at 4 p.m. On Wednesday at 1 p.m., Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee will hear testimony on Chairman Joe Pitts’ (R-Penn.) Protect Life Act, H.R. 358.

The two bills are similar in substance although the Smith version is more far-reaching. While the Pitts’ legislation is specific to abortion-related provisions of the health reform law, the Smith proposal would go after any federal funds that could touch abortion.

Well before the witnesses enter the hearing rooms, advocates on both sides are aggressively positioning around the issue.

“There is a time in legislative initiatives where all points converge and the door opens,” Susan B. Anthony List Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Monday statement to POLITICO. “On federal funding of abortion, that time is now….The Congress is overwhelmingly pro-life now and has vowed to fix the problem permanently.”

House Judiciary Democrats plan to bring a woman to the Wednesday hearing who will speak about the importance of insurance coverage for an abortion, relating her experience after her wanted pregnancy encountered complications.

Sara Rosenbaum, who chairs George Washington University’s health policy department, will testify at both hearings, focusing on how the legislation goes beyond merely barring taxpayer of abortion.

“Essentially this undermines tax-favored treatment of plans that cover abortion and utterly changes private health insurance, not just publicly-funded plans,” she told POLITICO in an interview. “It opens up a vast new amount of liability for alleged violations of discrimination [against providers who, for conscious reasons, refuse to provide abortions] and, number three, it exposes women to lose access to health care covered under EMTALA [emergency medical services legislation].”

Other witnesses at the Energy and Commerce hearing include NRLC’s legislative director, Douglas Johnson, who has previously written in favor of the legislation, and George Mason University’s Helen Alvare, who has previously worked with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

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