Friday, March 4, 2011

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill Restricting Insurance Coverage of Abortion

March 4, 2011 — The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 23-14 to approve a bill (HR 3) that would codify existing federal policies that prohibit federal funding of abortion in almost all cases, CQ Today reports (Weyl, CQ Today, 3/3).

The bill, titled the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and introduced in January by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), codifies current federal policies that prohibit federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. These restrictions, including the most sweeping provision known as the Hyde Amendment, have been attached each year in appropriations legislation. House Democrats have said that the bill removes tax breaks for small businesses who purchase insurance policies that include abortion coverage and prohibits individuals from receiving tax deductions for abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/9). The legislation also bans health care organizations that use their own funds for providing abortion care from receiving the use of U.S. foreign assistance and prohibits the District of Columbia from using local funds to pay for abortions.

The measure originally included an exemption for federal funding of an abortion in the case of a "forcible" rape. However, in light of criticism from women's groups, the Judiciary Committee adopted by voice vote a substitute amendment that removes the word "forcible" and modifies an exemption for abortions in the case of incest to exclude references to the woman being a minor. Democrats on the panel made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the tax-related provisions from the bill.

"This bill seeks to expand restrictions in current law and to impose an unprecedented penalty by use of the tax code on privately funded health care choices made by women and their families," Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat John Conyers (Mich.) said, adding, "Its goal, and effect if ever enacted, is to make abortion and coverage for abortion services completely unavailable" (CQ Today, 3/3).

Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, "HR 3 does not ban abortion. It also does not restrict abortions, or abortion coverage in health care plans, as long as those abortions or plans use only private or state funds." He added that "now is the time for Congress to pass one piece of legislation that prohibits the federal funding of abortions and prohibits the use of fiscal policy to encourage or subsidize abortions" (Hooper, The Hill, 3/3).

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