The Protect Life Act, H.R. 358, would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- dubbed "ObamaCare" by its critics -- to bar federal funds from being used for any portion of the costs of a health insurance plan that covers abortion and to protect the pro-life conscience rights of health-care workers and institutions.
The measure appears to have a gloomy future after passage by the Republican-controlled House. The Senate, with Democrats in the majority, is expected to rebuff the proposal. The White House released a policy statement prior to the vote expressing opposition and threatening a veto by President Obama if the bill reaches his desk.
In the House roll call, 15 Democrats joined 236 GOP members in supporting the legislation. Only two Republicans voted against it.
Pro-lifers applauded the House action, while abortion rights advocates decried it.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land described it as "a great day and an encouraging day."
"The House of Representatives is demonstrating that it's the most pro-life House since the Roe v. Wade decision by the passage of this legislation," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "All people who believe that the unborn deserve the protections of the law should contact their senators immediately and tell them to support this important piece of legislation."
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a written statement, "Since the debate on the Affordable Care Act first began, the pro-life movement has been urging Congress to pass legislation that would specifically prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. The House's approval of such legislation today is further evidence that Obama's health care law would in fact allow taxpayer funding of abortion; we are now one step closer to making that a thing of the past."
Democratic foes of the bill, as well as abortion rights organizations, criticized the bill as unnecessary and an attack on women's rights. They used extremely dramatic language to say it would restrict care for pregnant women in emergency situations. NARAL Pro-choice America, one of the country's leading abortion rights organizations, even labeled it as the "Let Women Die" bill.
Speaking at a news conference before the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi contributed to the line of attack. "hen the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health-care providers do not have to intervene.... It's just appalling," she said.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the measure "eliminates protections for patients seeking care in emergency circumstances, and would allow a hospital to deny lifesaving abortion care to a woman, even if a doctor deems it necessary."
Planned Parenthood is the country's leading abortion provider. Its affiliates performed more than 330,000 abortions in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Advocates for the funding ban rejected criticisms of the bill, contending it is necessary to protect taxpayers from underwriting abortion and it does not prevent emergency treatment of pregnant women.
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) wrote House members Oct. 6 to say the health-care law includes "multiple provisions that provide authorizations for subsidies for abortion, both implicit and explicit, and also multiple provisions that opened doors to abortion-expanding administration actions."
NRLC also said the Protect Life Act does not change the federal law governing emergency circumstances. That law requires a hospital, in an emergency, to "do its best to stabilize both the pregnant and her 'unborn child' (which is the term used in the statute)," according to NRLC.
"Despite misleading comments by abortion proponents, the Protect Life Act simply removes abortion funding and funding for health plans that include abortion," said Tony Perkins, Family Research Council's president, in a written statement. "It ensures that Americans who want health care insurance with abortion coverage or supplemental abortion coverage can purchase it, but not with federal dollars."
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R.-Tenn., said during House floor debate, "We all know that the ObamaCare bill allows for both the implicit and explicit taxpayer funding of abortion, and we all know that the executive order signed by the president is not worth the paper it was written on. It repeats the accounting gimmick that allows federal subsidies to go to insurance plans that cover abortion."
To gain the Democratic votes needed to pass the health-care bill in March 2010, Obama promised, then issued, an executive order, asserting it would prevent federal funding of abortion. Pro-life organizations denied it would guarantee that federal funds would not pay for abortions, and even Planned Parenthood's Richards described the order at the time as a "symbolic gesture."
The 15 Democrats voting for the Protect Life Act were Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Jerry Costello of Illinois, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.
Reps. Judy Biggert of Illinois and Richard Hanna of New York were the only Republicans to vote against it.
Rep. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., is the sponsor of the bill, and Lipinski is the lead Democratic cosponsor.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. See how your representative voted on the bill at http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2011/roll789.xml.
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