- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2011

Embracing legislation that nearly derailed the health care law last year, the House approved tougher restrictions on federally funded abortions in a move that pleased the GOP’s pro-life base but met vigorous opposition from President Obama and Senate Democrats.

The bill passed 251-172 and bars federally-subsidized insurance plans from covering abortions. It won support from some Democrats who had voted for the Affordable Care Act despite nearly identical restrictions being stripped from the overhaul when it became law 18 months ago.

Although the bill is unlikely to ever make it to the Senate floor, Republicans leaders said they were keeping a promise included in a list of legislative priorities they laid out in 2010, as Democrats accused them of taking the focus off jobs-creating bills.

“Listen, we’ve done four or five solid, jobs-creation bills this week and this bill was part of our Pledge to America,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner. “We’re keeping our word to the American people and we’re going to do it.”

Under the health care law, a woman can purchase a federally-subsidized plan through a health exchange that covers abortion, but must pay a separate premium without using federal dollars.

Under the “Protect Life Act,” a woman eligible for subsidized insurance coverage through health exchanges could not purchase any plan that includes coverage for abortions. Instead, she would have to pay for a supplemental plan covering abortion on her own.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

It also says health care providers cannot be required to participate in abortion-related services, a provision Democrats said could be fatal to women because it would allow providers to refuse to perform an abortion even if a woman’s pregnancy was endangering her life.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was “savage” of Republicans to propose withholding health care for pregnant women.

“When Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed,” she said. “It just appalls.”

Except for the provider provision, the bill mirrors an amendment offered by former Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, during the debate over the new health care law. It provided pro-life Democrats with the restrictions on federal funding of abortion that they wanted before coming on board.

Six Democrats teetered in their support when the Senate stripped the Stupak amendment from the legislation. They only relented after Mr. Obama signed an executive order he said would extend an existing ban on federal abortion funding — known as the Hyde Amendment — to the health care law. Calling it a smokescreen, pro-life advocates seethed.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, was one of the six, saying at the time that the executive order allowed him to vote for the health care law by setting up an adequate wall between taxpayer dollars and abortion. He also voted for the Protect Life Act, which Republicans insisted was essential to ensuring federal funds didn’t go toward abortion.

On Thursday, Mr. Rahall told The Washington Times that he wasn’t sure the executive order added any restrictions to the health care law.

“I’m not sure it added anything, it more re-enforced,” he said, adding, “This bill we’re voting on today is consistent with the position I’ve had all along on the issue, so I’m not going to vote against this today which, in my opinion would be inconsistent and trying to back away from what we did in the Affordable Care Act.”

Jessica Arons, director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program for the Center for American Progress, said the order was no more than a political cover for pro-life Democrats who wanted to vote for the health care law.

“It didn’t change anything that was already in the bill,” she said. “This gave one more layer to the argument that no public money was going to go for abortion funding.”

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