U.S. House passes latest controversial anti-abortion-rights measure

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an anti-abortion-rights bill Thursday night that prohibits state health exchanges created by President Obama's health-care reform bill from covering abortion services, with limited exceptions.

The final vote tally, for House Resolution 358, was 251-172, with 15 Democrats voting in favor of the bill and two Republicans opposing it.

While the representatives debated the bill early in the day, anti-abortion-rights organizations demonstrated in the Congressional Auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center, where several women in various stages of pregnancy displayed their uteruses on a widescreen as a certified nurse conducted their ultrasounds. Among the women to undergo a public ultrasound was Mary O'Connor, an employee for Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), the author of the Protect Life Act.

When the debate continued in the evening, Pitts defended his legislation, comparing the anti-abortion-rights movement to the civil rights movement. He suggested that if abortion had been legal before 1973, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, writer Maya Angelou, and the recently deceased Apple founder Steve Jobs, all of whom were adopted, might never have lived.

In general, Republicans defended the legislation by arguing that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was approved last year without language mirroring that of the Hyde Amendment -- the source of a more than three decades federal-funding ban on abortions. Obama's executive order to that effect has been deemed by the House GOP to be insufficient and alterable.

"Hyde only affects Labor/HHS programs, not the massive expansion of government-funded healthcare," Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said earlier in the day during the first half of the debate. "Thus ObamaCare, when phased in fully in November 2014, will open up the floodgates of public funding for abortion in a myriad of programs, including and especially in exchanges, resulting in more dead babies and wounded mothers than would otherwise have been the case."

Democrats attacked Republicans for pushing legislation that attempts to restrict women's access to abortion instead of focusing on jobs and the economy.

"This bill creates no jobs, it doesn't help the economy and it inserts the federal government smack in the middle of [women's reproductive decisions]," said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.).

"The American people want the divisiveness to stop and the jobs to start," Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) echoed.

Democrats also argued that that bill could put women's lives at risk if they are refused abortion care in cases of emergency, a contention bill supporters disputed.

Abortion-rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America has dubbed the Protect Life Act the “Let Women Die” bill.

Following the bill's passage, NARAL released a statement that reads, in part:

H.R.358 is part of Speaker Boehner’s ongoing agenda to attack women’s privacy and take away the right to choose.  This is the House’s seventh vote attacking choice since January. In February, the anti-choice leadership brought the government to the brink of shutdown over its obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood. In May, the House passed H.R.3 (a companion bill to H.R.358). These two bills made headlines earlier this year because they both included language that redefined rape to make it more difficult for sexual-assault survivors to access abortion care.  Boehner caved to public outrage on that issue, both bills still jeopardize women’s health.  Shockingly, H.R.358 would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she will die without it.

To this end, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) attempted to amend the bill with a provision stipulating that health care workers be required to provide care to women in an emergency regardless of their personal beliefs on abortion. Capps argued that Pitts' bill as written creates a loophole allowing health care workers to ignore the existing Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which ensures public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. But her motion failed.

Obama has promised to veto the Protect Life Act if it makes it to his desk.