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Democrats, Activists Protest as House Panel Advances Abortion Coverage Restrictions

Democrats, Activists Protest as House Panel Advances Abortion Coverage Restrictions

January 16, 2014 — Nearly 100 abortion-rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers protested in a Capitol Hill hallway Wednesday as the House panel prepared to mark up a bill (HR 7) that would severely restrict abortion coverage, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/15).

The House Judiciary Committee went on to approve the bill in a 22-12 vote (Winfield Cunningham, Politico Pro, 1/15).

The bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would bar federal tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) to individuals who purchase health plans that include abortion coverage, as well as small businesses that offer such plans to their employees. The bill's restrictions would not apply in cases of rape or incest or when a woman's life is in danger (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/10).

According to a Congressional Research Service summary, the bill would alter the tax code to bar tax deductions from applying to medical expenses related to abortions ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/15).

The bill also would define Washington, D.C., as part of the federal government, thereby prohibiting the district from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/10). The bill would codify the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion, except in very limited circumstances.

Democratic Lawmakers Join Protest

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) joined other abortion-rights supporters to criticize the bill and the panel's lack of female Republican members ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/15). Slaughter said, "It's almost back to the old days -- 'Let's tell the little lady what she can do'" (Politico Pro, 1/15).

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also attacked the bill Wednesday, calling it an "anti-woman" proposal, and saying its proposed changes to the federal tax code could lead the Internal Revenue Services to audit rape victims ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/15).

Hearing Testimony

At the hearing, Republicans claimed the bill is needed to ensure taxpayer money is not used toward abortion care (Politico Pro, 1/15). Committee Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) said, "However stark Americans' differences of opinion can be on the matter of abortion generally, there has been long, bipartisan agreement that federal taxpayer funds should not be used to destroy innocent life."

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) rebutted, "This legislation isn't about federal funding -- it's about undermining women" (Kim, CQ Roll Call, 1/15).

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) argued that the bill could "create a chilling effect on the insurance market by denying benefits" for abortion for many women, thus creating a disincentive for health plans to offer such benefits to those who could still purchase them (Politico Pro, 1/15).

Focus on Washington, D.C.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) proposed an unsuccessful amendment to strike the language on Washington, D.C.

Holmes Norton, who was denied the chance to testify on the measure at an earlier hearing, called the bill "an insult to the people" of the district that "snatches authority from a local jurisdiction."

However, Goodlatte argued that the district's entire budget must be approved by Congress, "and so Congress bears a responsibility to protect the innocent lives of unborn children in the nation's capital" (Hess, Roll Call, 1/15).

The panel rejected several other Democratic amendments (CQ Roll Call, 1/15).

Bill's Chances in Full House

A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that while the House leadership is "supportive" of the bill, there has not been an announcement on whether it will be brought to the floor for a vote. Politico Pro reports the bill would have little chance of being considered in the Senate (Politico Pro, 1/15).