House OKs permanent ban on federal abortion funding

The White House threatens to veto the bill, saying it goes beyond long-standing restrictions.

By Charles Fiegl — Posted May 12, 2011

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The House has approved a bill that permanently would prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions or buy insurance plans that cover abortions.

The legislation is now in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to move forward as a standalone bill. Even if it were approved as part of a larger bill and sent to President Obama's desk, White House senior officials have indicated they would advise him to veto the measure.

The House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R, N.J.), by a 251-175 vote on May 4. Sixteen Democrats supported the bill, while no Republicans voted against it.

The bill would ban federal funding from being used to pay for abortion services or health plans that cover abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The restrictions mirror a ban known as the Hyde Amendment, which lawmakers have approved as a rider to appropriations bills each year for more than three decades.

But the House bill would go further than that by prohibiting any tax benefits resulting from spending money on abortion services or purchasing a health plan covering abortion, the CBO said. Opponents of the legislation said that means a woman would not be able to claim a medical expense tax deduction when spending her own money on abortion services, nor would she be able to use funds set aside in a flexible spending account or a medical savings account.

The Obama administration issued the veto threat on May 2. The bill would intrude on women's reproductive freedom and access to health care and restrict private insurance choices, the White House officials said.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Tom Coburn, MD (R, Okla.), and 28 other Republican senators have introduced the Protect Life Act, which would codify the Hyde Amendment and apply it to programs under the health system reform law. Direct appropriations of funds to new health programs are not subject to the annual rider, according to a bill summary statement.

"The administration's track record of ambiguity in this area underscores the need for federal legislation clarifying, once and for all, that public funds will not be used to pay for abortion services under the new health law," Dr. Coburn said.

Senate Democrats said the Republican abortion bills are too far outside the decades of precedent on the issue.

"Current law is clear: Federal funds cannot be used to provide abortions," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, N.Y.). "That has been the law of the land for 30 years."

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