The U.S. House Representatives on Wednesday approved a measure that repeals part of the year-old Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and would, among several provisions, ban tax subsidies for private health insurance plans that include abortion as a covered service; prevent citizens from deducting abortion as a medical expense unless it was the result of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother -- and invites the potential for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate how women who had abortions became pregnant and how they paid for their abortions.
New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith’s No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion, or House Resolution 3, as expected, passed 251-175. What will happen when it moves to the Senate remains unclear. President Obama has issued a veto threat on the bill, but the GOP could always attach the amendment to another bill.
HR 3 would go beyond the provisions of the annually renewed Hyde Amendment (PDF), which since 1976 has prohibited federal money from funding abortion. This new law would effectively raise taxes on individuals and small businesses that choose to cover abortions in their plans and widens conscience protections for medical professionals who choose not to perform abortions -- even in cases of medical emergency.
Congress debated the bill for more than three hours, with opponents and proponents arguing in a circle: Republicans said American taxpayers should not have to pay for abortions; Democrats argued that American taxpayers already do not pay for abortions under federal law. What the bill really does, opponents said, is make it incredibly difficult for abortion seekers to pay for the procedure.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the bill is "outrageous in its arrogance." "The right to choose is meaningless without access to abortion," she said. "[This bill] is anti-women, anti-choice, anti-respect and anti-business."
A few Republicans, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said the true point of the law was to make abortion rare.
Democrats slammed the GOP for pushing legislation that they said meddles with Americans' health care decisions and that raises taxes on small businesses -- instead of working on legislation that creates jobs or reduces the federal deficit.
"This is an attempt to legislate something that it isn't," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) "This is a crock of bologna. [Prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion] has been the law of the land for 35 years."
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) called HR 3 an "extremist offensive bill" and reminded colleagues that Smith's initial proposed amendment attempted to redefine rape, giving exceptions to this law only to women who were "forcibly raped."
"Taxpayers oppose government funding for abortion," Smith, the bill's author, said. "[HR 3 will not] subsidize the killing of babies except in the rare cases for rape, incest or [to save the life of the mother]. Today, we end taxpayer complicity in abortion violence."
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said Smith's bill violates the Constitution by attempting to use the tax code to restrict a legal procedure on the basis of ideology.
"It is wrong to raise taxes on people who exercise constitutional rights," Andrews said. "Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, if you are pro-Constitution, you should vote no."
Right before the final vote, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) proposed a motion that would protect victims of rape and incest from having to reveal their medical records to federal agencies in the event of an IRS audit, for example. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) called Speier's motion a "red herring," and "an amendment looking for a problem that isn't there" (which is how many opponents characterized HR 3). The motion was voted down 235-192.
Before voting on HR 3, the House voted to repeal mandatory funding to school-based health centers. Four Republicans voted against the repeal and three Democrats voted for the repeal.