Last week the House passed with bi-partisan support the Protect Life Act, which amends the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to assure that no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund abortion. It also assures that health care providers which do not wish to provide abortions are not forced to by government.
The bill’s Republican sponsor, Joe Pitts (R-PA), had co-sponsored essentially the same amendment along with then-congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI), when Obamacare was in the making in 2009.
Because a similar provision was not in the Senate version of the bill, and had no prospect of making it through the Senate, Stupak stood as a major obstacle to the passage of Obamacare.
In the end, the ways of Washington prevailed, and Stupak caved to pressure from the White House. He agreed to support the health care bill without his anti-abortion provision, in exchange for President Obama issuing an executive order prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions in health care provided in the framework of Obamacare.
An executive order is a flimsy substitute for law, thus Rep. Pitt found another pro-life Democrat, Dan Lipinski (D-IL), to co-sponsor his amendment, which has now passed the House 251-172.
However Pitt’s new bill faces the same prospects as the amendment that he co-sponsored with Stupak in 2009. Its chances of passage in the Senate are remote.
So why bother?
After the bill passed, I was asked on a PBS talk show, To the Contrary, if Republicans were being frivolous in taking up congressional floor time to deal with abortion when what Americans want today is congressional action on the economy.
My response was “no, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and actually in light of Obamacare, it is critical for lawmakers to protect healthcare workers and hospitals with a conscience clause.
In fact, the attention that the bill has gotten in the short time since it passed the House indicates that the level of interest in abortion, and the potential use of taxpayer funds for it, remains high.
Two high post Democrats – former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Democratic National Committee chairperson - issued statements criticizing the bill shortly after it passed.
According to Pelosi, the provision assuring that health care providers, including hospitals, are not forced to provide abortions, even thought they receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, means “that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene.”