This article originally appeared on Politico.com on January 20, 2011.
Abortion interjected into health care reform repeal
By Sarah Kliff
Republicans are turning to abortion as a key issue to rally their base as they attempt to replace the Democrats’ health reform law.
The high-profile introduction of a Republican anti-abortion bill — just hours after the health repeal vote and prior to any legislation on jobs or economy—has groups on both sides of the issue gearing up for another aggressive fight.
The No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced Thursday as H.R. 3, aims to codify the Hyde Amendment, which has long barred federal funding for abortion and must currently be renewed every year. The legislation was introduced in tandem with the Protect Life Act, sponsored by Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), that would specifically bar any federal funding for abortion under the health reform law.
“This common sense legislation reflects the will of the people and deserves the support of the House,” House Speaker John Boehner said at a Thursday morning press conference. “It’s one of highest legislative priorities and as such I’ve directed it receive the designation of H.R. 3.”
The new legislation will no doubt keep health reform on the front burner, as House Republicans look for specific provisions of the law they can tackle that will resonate with voters. While independent fact check organizations have concluded that the health reform does not allow for federal funding of abortion, Republicans remain insistent that the language is too loose and the possibility for funding does indeed remain.
The high-profile treatment of this taxpayer funding bill has abortion-rights supporters bracing for yet another battle on the Hill.
“This is a very serious threat,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told POLITICO in a Thursday morning interview. “These folks have just taken office and this is what they’re focusing on…Based on what we’re seeing, just few days after the start of Congress, we’re absolutely ready for a very serious fight.”
To be sure, anti-abortion legislation is often introduced with much fanfare only to fizzle in committee, never making it to the House floor. Even the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Bill was introduced last session only to die in committee.
But those involved on both sides of the abortion issue say things are different in the 112th Congress for two key reasons: the high priority that Republicans have given the issue as well as the influx of anti-abortion members of Congress into both the House and Senate.
In a telling move, Speaker Boehner held his press conference to discuss the abortion legislation hours before an appearance with House committee chairs to outline their approach to dismantling the health reform law. The legislation was well-timed for anti-abortion activists, who will mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22 with their annual March for Life, scheduled for this coming Monday.
“Our members feel very strongly about the sanctity of human life,” Boehner said. “We listened to the American people. We made a commitment to the American people under the Pledge to America and we’re continuing to fulfill our commitment.”
Boehner himself has frequently spoken of his admiration of Rep. Henry Hyde, the anti-abortion Congressman after whom the Hyde Amendment is named. He was given Americans United for Life’s annual Defender of Life award this past summer.
The commitment to anti-abortion issues seems to be shared by the Republican House leadership.
Their Pledge to America, an outline of their agenda released in September, included a promise to codify the Hyde Amendment. This was a striking departure from the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America, which made no such mention of abortion policy.
“The fact that it is designated as HR 3 speaks volumes about priorities,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the main sponsor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Bill. “This leadership under speaker Boehner, right on down the line of the Republican leadership, believes in this. this is not about political expediency.”
“We intend to move that bill quickly through our committee,” Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) added at a Thursday press conference, on Republican plans to replace health reform.
Anti-abortion groups are buoyed by the new legislation, and the increasing focus on social issues that the new Republican leadership has so far demonstrated.
“The strongly pro-life House leadership is listening. Taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care bill was a defining issue in the mid-term election,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement to POLITICO. “The House saw a net gain of 50 pro-life Members, sent to Washington to correct the injustice. The American people have called for laws that end taxpayer funding of abortion and the House is getting the job done.”
Last year’s health reform debate ended with President Obama issuing an executive order ensuring that “Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.”
The Executive Order was crucial in winning over some anti-abortion Democrats, most notably now retired Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who had long contended that the law would have taxpayer funds spent on abortion.
Groups that support abortion rights, as well as independent fact checking organizations, say the law most definitely does not allow for federal funding of abortion.
“The Senate bill states very clearly that public funding through tax credits and government subsidies for elective abortion services offered in the exchange is prohibited,” the independent PolitiFact wrote in March 2010. “But more than that, the bill sets up a mechanism to ensure that abortion services offered in the exchange are paid entirely from patient premiums, premiums paid by people who have chosen a private plan that covers abortion.”
But anti-abortion legislators and activists have remained unconvinced arguing that the bill was too loosely worded to ensure that federal funds would not trickle into abortion clinics.
Rep. Dan Lipinksi (D-Ill.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, pointed out at a Thursday Press Conference that some of health reform’s high risk insurance pools had initially planned to cover abortion as a benefit.
“There was going to be funding for abortion until that was pointed out and only because people were looking very closely at this,” he said.
The House of Representatives has 246 anti-abortion members, 155 who support abortion rights and 34 who fall somewhere in the middle, according to an analysis by NARAL Pro-ChoiceAmerica. In the Senate, they rank 46 Senators as abortion opponents, 40 who support access and 14 who have a mixed records. If Senators who opposed abortion joined force with those who have a mixed record, it could potentially create a filibuster proof, 60-Senator majority.
“The Senate is moderate and has the opportunity to put the breaks on an anti-choice agenda,” NARAL president Nancy Keenan told POLITICO in an interview. “We’ll be working with them but we don’t take anything for granted.”