Bill to Yank Abortion Funding From Obamacare Wins Approval

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 15, 2011   |   5:28PM   |   Washington, DC

The bill that would ensure no loopholes in the Obamacare bill can authorize abortion funding under the federal law received a positive vote from House Energy and Commerce today. The legislation also protects conscience rights for medical workers.

On Friday, a subcommittee approved the bill and, today the full committee voted to send the Protect Life Act, one of three measures pro-life groups are supporting to remove governmental financial support for the abortion industry, to the full House.

Democrats Mike Ross or Arkansas and Jim Matheson of Utah nd all Republicans on the Committee voted for passage of the bill.  Several hostile amendments were offered, and Ross joined all Republicans on the Committee to defeat each hostile amendment. 

HR 358, sponsored by the subcommittee’s chairman, pro-life Republican Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, survived amendments in subcommittee to weaken the measure and it survived attacks from pro-abortion Democrats on the full committee. Knowing most Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions, Democrats went after the conscience protections in the measure before the committee vote.

“The H.R. 358 provisions to protect the conscience rights of pro-life health care providers came under heavy attack from most Democrats on the committee,” National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson told “They give lip service to conscience rights, but no one should be fooled — they are fighting to provide legal weapons, in federal law, to groups like the ACLU and the National Health Law Program, to use in their ongoing campaigns to penalize health care providers who refuse to participate in providing abortion.”

“Critics of the Protect Life Act are also working hard to fabricate bogus, diversionary issues, in order to deflect attention away from the real target of the legislation — the multiple provisions of the Obama health care law that authorize federal abortion subsidies and abortion-expanding regulatory mandates,” Johnson added.

The Protect Life Act now needs approval by the full House, which is currently spending the week on the continuing resolution bill to fund the federal government. As a result, the legislation wouldn’t go to the floor until next week at the earliest but likely sometime after that.

The following amendments were offered during the markup today:

Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) offered an amendment to the anti-mandate provision in the “Protect Life Act.”  The DeGette amendment would have allowed PPACA to be used to mandate that health care providers facilitate abortion by providing certain information including where to obtain an abortion, what requirements are necessary to receive an abortion and information about insurance coverage for abortion.  The DeGette amendment was defeated by a vote of 17-32.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) offered an amendment to allow PPACA to override state conscience protections unless the state law is specific to abortion.  Under the Schakowsky amendment state conscience protection laws related to other issues like the morning-after-pill could be preempted by PPACA.  The Schakowsky amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-31.

Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) offered an amendment to apply the conscience protections in H.R. 358 to abortion clinics and other abortion providers.  If enacted, this amendment would have given abortion providers the right to sue government officials enforcing state and local laws regarding abortion, and would have a chilling effect on enforcement of pro-life laws.  The Engel amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-31.

Representative Anthony Weiner attempted to offer two amendments related to the constitutional authority statement accompanying the “Protect Life Act.”  Both amendments (here and here) were ruled nongermane.

During the subcommittee debate on the Protect Life Act, Republican lawmakers pointed to the Stupak amendment the House added to its version of the Obamacare bill as proof there is substantial support for removing any concerns the Obamacare law will fund abortions.

“The Protect Life Act, in short, would  amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to continue the historical practice of prohibiting federal funds from being used on abortion services,” Pitts said. “Unfortunately, the Stupak-Pitts provision was not included in final passage, and so this will seek to amend health care reform by statutorily putting into law what was overwhelmingly supported in this body and is supported by 60 to 70 percent of the American people.”

“The bill would also prevent government entities funded by the Affordable Care Act from discriminating against health care providers and professionals that do not participate in abortion. Further, the bill would allow individuals to purchase a separate abortion plan with private funds, and allow health insurance providers to offer separate plans for abortion coverage, so long as they don’t use federal funds to do so,” he added.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Republican, defended the measure, saying it would not only eliminate any abortion funding in the health care law but would also protect the conscience rights of medical workers who do not want to be involved.

Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess, chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus and a former OBGYN, also spoke in favor of the measure and said it was needed to attach the Hyde Amendment, which even some pro-abortion lawmakers support, to the Obamacare bill.

“I think it is important to codify with this language that we are responsible for the judicious use of taxpayer dollars,” Burgess said.

Helen Alvare, associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law, and a former spokeswoman for the pro-life office of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops testified on the pro-life side along with Douglas Johnson, the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

When Congress passed the government-run health care bill, it did so without any limits on abortion funding and language mandating taxpayer financing of abortion in certain circumstances.

Obama eventually issued a controversial executive order supposedly taking the abortion funding issue off the table.

However, virtually every pro-life group said it would not mitigate the abortion funding because it doesn’t have the effect of law, could be reversed in the future, and because it didn’t tackle much of the abortion funding in the bill. The Obama administration could also ignore the order and not put it in place when the health care law goes into effect.

Under the new health care law, states will be in charge of their own health care exchanges that are available for individuals and small businesses.

The exchange doesn’t go into effect until 2014 and states are filing lawsuits seeking to stop the pro-abortion health care bill in its other pro-abortion provisions entirety, but states are moving now to exercise their right to opt out of some of the abortion funding.

Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana have passed similar bills that have already been signed into law by governors in those states and several other states are expected to consider legislation in their upcoming legislative sessions. Governors in Oklahoma and Florida vetoed similar legislation.