January 22, 2015 — On the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the House on Thursday afternoon voted 242-179 to pass a bill (HR 7) that would restrict insurance coverage of abortion, after dropping plans to vote on a 20-week abortion ban measure (HR 36) that some conservative lawmakers had refused to support, the Washington Post reports (O'Keefe, Washington Post, 1/22).
Earlier Thursday, President Obama said he would veto HR 7 if it reaches his desk, although the measure is not expected to pass the Senate (Tully-McManus, CQ Roll Call, 1/22).
In a statement of administrative policy, the White House said, "The Administration strongly opposes legislation that unnecessarily restricts women's reproductive freedoms and consumers' private insurance options" (Villacorta, Politico Pro, 1/22). A statement from the White House noted that the bill "would go well beyond" current restrictions on federal funding for abortion (CQ Roll Call, 1/22).
The bill would make permanent the abortion funding restrictions included in the Hyde Amendment, which is typically passed every year as part of an appropriations measure and bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, except in instances of rape and incest, and endangerment to the woman's life.
The bill also would impose new restrictions blocking small businesses from obtaining the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) small business tax credit if their employee health plans include abortion coverage (Politico Pro, 1/22). Individuals who receive federal subsidies under the ACA to purchase health plans also would be barred from choosing plans that cover abortion services, other than in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.
In addition, the bill would require health plans that include abortion coverage to conspicuously disclose that information in marketing, at the time of enrollment, and in any summaries or comparison tools describing coverage (CQ Roll Call, 1/22). It also would bar Washington, D.C., from using locally derived funds to pay for abortion care (Bassett, Huffington Post, 1/22).
Change in Voting Plans After GOP Split
The House had been expected to vote on the 20-week abortion ban on Thursday, the date of the annual antiabortion-rights March for Life. The measure would have allowed abortions after 20 weeks only in certain cases of rape and incest, and endangerment to a woman's life. The bill mandated that a rape survivor must formally report the rape to police in order to be able to legally have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Women's Health Report, 1/21).
However, several GOP lawmakers in a closed-door meeting last week argued that bringing up the bill could hurt Republicans politically by decreasing support from young people and distracting from the party's message on the economy. Some conservative lawmakers, including Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), also have raised concerns that the bill's requirements for an exemption to the mandate for rape survivors could dissuade them from reporting rape (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).
According to the Washington Post, GOP leadership after closed-door meetings on Wednesday with Ellmers and others decided to end their plans to vote on the 20-week ban and instead pursue the abortion coverage measure. A senior Republican aide said that "men and women members" had raised concerns "that still need to be worked out." The aide added that HR 7 would "advance the pro-life cause" and that Republican leaders "remain committed to continue working through the process [on the 20-week bill] to make sure it, too, is successful."
However, other aides said that GOP leaders dropped the bill because they wanted to avoid any political fallout from having a number of female party members vote against an antiabortion-rights bill so early in the new session. According to the Washington Post, the split over the bill could also signal the difficulty GOP leaders might have in trying to align party goals with the concern of more moderate members who could face tough re-election battles (Washington Post, 1/22).
During Thursday's House session, more than a dozen Democratic members read similar statements on the chamber floor, saying that lawmakers "should vote for bigger paychecks and better infrastructure instead of attacking women's access to health care" (Huffington Post, 1/22).
House Democrats and abortion-rights groups said that both the dropped bill and HR 7 are problematic. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue called the 20-week bill "so extreme and so out of touch with the voters that even their own membership could not support" (Washington Post, 1/22).
Meanwhile, National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra Ness said in a statement, "House leaders should recognize that any attack on women's reproductive health care will alienate and offend women," adding that the House "failed women and the country today" (NPWF statement, 1/22).
The leaders of the antiabortion-rights groups the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and the Susan B. Anthony List said Thursday that they will continue pushing for a vote on the 20-week abortion ban. "The results of the 2014 midterm elections made clear that this Congress has been given a direct mandate" to restrict abortion, they said (Washington Post, 1/22).