This article originally appeared online at The Washington Times on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.
House bills aim to defund abortion
Critics call it ‘unprecedented’
By Cheryl Wetzstein
Abortion providers are the targets of a trio of House bills that seek to ensure that taxpayer dollars will not find their way into such coffers.
“The time has come to deny any and all taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said at a Feb. 10 press conference about his Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.
A second pro-life bill blocks federal funds from paying for abortions, even indirectly, under the new health care law, and a third measure codifies the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, into law.
All three of the bills are bipartisan, thanks to a handful of House Democrats as co-sponsors.
The timing of these bills reflect the ascendancy of the pro-life movement, said one supporter.
“All the polls show that this is pro-life America now,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in her first annual State of the Unborn video address. The pro-life movement is in “a moment in time which we have not seen since 1973, where we have the momentum.”
However, House Democrats and their allies who support abortion rights are vociferous in their criticism of these bills.
H.R. 3 “is an unprecedented attack” on women, families, their rights under the Constitution and private insurance, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said a recent House subcommittee hearing on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and 209 co-sponsors.
The Hyde Amendment is “deeply unjust,” and the Smith bill will only further reduce access to “medically necessary emergency abortions,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
The bill to prevent abortions in the health care law — the Protect Life Act, led by Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican — “would amount to a middle-class abortion ban,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Women will lose “private health care benefits they have today — benefits they pay for themselves or their employers provide them,” she warned.
The Smith and Pitts bills allow abortions under specific circumstances, such as rape, incest and endangerment of the health of the woman, and strengthen “conscience” clauses so pro-life health care workers do not have to assist with abortions.
The conscience issue is likely to gain importance in the wake of a Feb. 18 decision by the Obama administration to tighten a Bush-era conscience policy so it only covers abortion and sterilization. Pro-life opponents protested the change, saying health care workers could be forced to assist with other morally objectionable services, such as “emergency contraception.”
To date, though, the Pence bill has drawn the most attention, as it would disallow federal family-planning funding to any entity that performs abortions or indirectly supports abortions.
Planned Parenthood is assumed to be the target of the bill, as it is the largest recipient of Title X funds and is the largest abortion provider.
Some 100 abortion-rights supporters in the House have signed a letter calling the Pence bill “a significant threat to women’s health” because it would dismantle a national network of health clinics that offer 3 million Americans health screenings, contraceptive services and immunizations.
But the Pence approach has been escalated: In the just-passed, budget-cutting House appropriations bill, “no funds” are allocated for Title X for the rest of the year. The Title X amendment, introduced by Mr. Pence, passed 240-185 and would save the government more than $300 million.
The prognosis for all three bills looks better in the House than in the Senate.
“I think they will all pass in the House,” especially in light of Lila Rose and Live Action’s videos showing “outrageous” behavior by Planned Parenthood employees, said Marilyn Musgrave, a former Colorado congresswoman who is now active with the Susan B. Anthony List. The Senate, however, “is a much different world,” she said.
Said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat, at a hearing for the Pitts bill: “The bill, in my opinion, is not pro-life, it’s anti-woman … . I don’t see that even if this bill passes the House, it has any chance of garnering 60 votes in the Senate or being approved by the president.”