House GOP revives abortion issue, irks Obama

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After a six-month respite from fights over federal funding of abortion, House Republicans are revisiting the battle with a bill aimed at severing all ties between President Obama’s health care law and insuring, performing or obtaining abortions.

A vote on a proposal that would amend the Affordable Care Act to bar federally subsidized insurance plans from covering abortion services is expected Thursday, though it is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate or get approval from the White House, which sharply denounced the vote Wednesday as a political stunt.

The bill also says insurers and providers cannot be required to participate in abortion-related services.

“The Protect Life Act is a crucial measure that not only returns to the status quo on federal funding for abortion, it also protects health care entities from discrimination that is already occurring under health reform,” Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said at a Wednesday hearing.

Friction over whether Mr. Obama’s health care law allows for taxpayer-funded abortion runs deep in Congress, after the issue took center stage in the disputes over the health care overhaul.

Eighteen months later, Republicans remain skeptical of a last-minute executive order Mr. Obama signed to win over pro-life Democrats. They also note the way Democrats fought tooth and nail to protect Planned Parenthood funding during last spring’s dispute over keeping the federal government funded.

Midway through a week focused on the president’s jobs bill, trade agreements and currency protection, Obama spokesman Jay Carney slammed the House for focusing on legislation “that will not create a single job.”

“Instead of continuing to focus on creating jobs and getting the American people back to work, tomorrow the House of Republicans is scheduled to turn its attention to a divisive, politically motivated piece of legislation that unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today,” he said, indicating that Mr. Obama would veto the bill even in the unlikelihood of Senate passage.

The disputes center on whether Mr. Obama’s executive order carries enough weight to ensure that a decades-old ban on federally funded abortion will apply to the health care law, which will envelop millions more Americans in subsidized or partially subsidized coverage through state-based exchanges.

Enacted in 1976, the Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. When the health care bill became embroiled in controversy over whether the Hyde Amendment would cover the entities the bill creates, such as the insurance exchanges, President Obama issued an executive order saying the amendment did.

But Mr. Pitts — echoing the immediate reaction to the executive order from both sides of the abortion divide — said the president’s guarantee isn’t enough. He told the House Rules Committee on Wednesday that the health care law needs to be amended specifically to insure against “loopholes that will inevitably allow federal funding for abortion services and coverage.”

Under Mr. Pitt’s amendment, women qualifying for fully or partially subsidized insurance through an exchange would not be able to purchase a plan that included abortion coverage. Instead, they would have to purchase on their own a supplemental plan that covers abortion.

The bill also includes a “conscience protection” for health professionals who decline to provide or cover abortions and insurers who choose not to cover certain types of birth control including Plan B, the so-called “morning after” pill. Pro-lifers have criticized it as a possible abortifacient, but it is included in a list of services deemed “essential” by the Department of Health and Human Services that insurers must cover under the health care law.

Long angered by the executive order that they see as a political stunt, pro-life advocates lined up in support of the amendment.

The executive order “doesn’t have enough meat in it to ensure all the funds either authorized or appropriated through the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t be used for abortions,” said Kellie Fiedorek, staff attorney for Americans United for Life.

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