The House voted Wednesday to ban teaching health centers from using federal money to train doctors on how to perform abortions, the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures pushed by the Republican majority.
The author of the measure, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said she wanted to make it "crystal clear that taxpayer money is not being used to train health care providers to perform abortion procedures."
The proposal was presented as an amendment to the latest of several GOP bills to restrict funding for the health care act that was enacted last year. This bill gives Congress control over spending for a program to encourage health centers to provide training to medical residents. The amendment applies to funding in that grant program.
The Foxx amendment passed 234-182 despite the objections of some Democrats that it would prevent health centers from teaching a basic medical technique that can be critical to saving a woman's life during emergencies.
"This amendment would jeopardize both education and women's health care by obliterating funding for a necessary full range of medical training by health care professionals," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
The Foxx amendment and the overall bill to restrict the health care act both are likely to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Since coming to power in January, the Republican majority in the House has acted to write permanently into law the ban on federal funds to perform abortions, to make it easier for hospitals to refuse abortion cases and to make it more expensive for small businesses to choose insurance plans under the health care act that provide abortion coverage. The House unsuccessfully tried to cut off federal money for Planned Parenthood as part of the battle over this year's budget.
"If organizations want to provide elective abortions or train abortion doctors they need to find someone other than taxpayers to write the checks," Foxx said.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Foxx's amendment was an unprecedented restriction on medical training. "Regardless of how one feels about legal abortion, reasonable lawmakers can agree that doctors should be as well-trained as possible to deal with any medical situation that may arise," she said.
The amendment also states that no funds available under the grant program can be used to perform abortions and that teaching health centers will not be eligible for funds if they discriminate against providers that deny abortion services.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the anti-abortion group National Right to Life, said the anti-discrimination provision was important because "the Obama administration has severely weakened enforcement of existing laws."
He said conscience protections get a better reception in the Senate and that, even if the Senate does not act, it was important for the House to push its anti-abortion agenda. "It usually takes more than one Congress to accomplish worthwhile legislative goals," Johnson said. "It is necessary often to build up momentum over several Congresses."