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Abortion funding ban appears stymied

WASHINGTON (BP)–Legislation to institute a government-wide ban on federal funds for abortion appears destined to advance no further despite gaining a comfortable victory in the U.S. House of Representatives May 4.

The House voted 251-175 for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 3, with the majority consisting of all 235 Republicans who cast votes and 16 Democrats.

The bill would serve to standardize bans on abortion funding that now exist in various federal programs and make certain the prohibition extends to all agencies. It would make those bans permanent, eliminating a system in which many of them have to be reauthorized each year. The prohibition also would apply to last year’s health-care reform law, which authorizes federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. In addition, it would establish conscience clause protections for pro-life, health-care providers.

The legislation, however, faces likely defeat in the Senate, where Democrats and abortion-rights advocates maintain control. Pro-life Sen. Roger Wicker, R.-Miss., introduced his chamber’s version of the bill May 5.

Even if it were to survive the Senate, President Obama appears certain to veto it. The White House released a statement May 2 saying it opposes the bill and the president would be advised to use his veto power to thwart it.

In spite of the measure’s seemingly doomed future in this congressional session, the House’s action marked a significant milestone in the effort to provide taxpayers with permanent protection from underwriting abortions. It marked the first time the House had voted on the proposal, and it came only after the Republicans gained the majority in the 2010 election.

“Elections have consequences,” said Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land. “The American people elected the most pro-life House since Roe v. Wade last November, and this is one of the many positive results that will defend our unborn citizens’ right to exist.”

Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said children conceived by mothers in poverty “have a better chance of being born when this legislation is passed than they did before. That’s good news for America and certainly good news for those children.”

In a May 3 letter, Land told selected House members the ERLC finds it “unconscionable that a single taxpayer dollar be funneled to abortion.” The legislation’s enactment would mean “concerns on abortion funding would be significantly abated,” he said.

Other pro-lifers also applauded the House action. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a written statement, “Compelling American taxpayers to hand over their hard earned dollars to pay for abortions can’t be justified, especially at a time when our country is facing an economic meltdown brought on by a failure to stop the out-of-control spending in Washington.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., the bill’s chief sponsor, asked during debate: “Want to reduce abortions? End public funding.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that ending public funding for abortions saves lives.”

Smith cited an estimate that the Hyde Amendment had saved the lives of more than one million unborn children since it was first enacted in 1976. The Hyde Amendment bars Medicaid and other funding through the annual Labor and Health and Human Services spending bill from paying for abortions. The Guttmacher Institute, Smith said, reported about one-fourth of women who would have used Medicaid funds for abortion have given birth instead because of Hyde.

Among its policies, the House-passed legislation would halt the Internal Revenue Service’s allowance of “tax favored treatment for abortions” under itemized deductions, health savings accounts and other accounts, Smith said.

Abortion-rights organizations decried the House vote.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s leading abortion provider, “is outraged,” said Cecile Richards, the organization’s president. The measure would increase taxes on individuals and small businesses because it eliminates deductions for medical costs that include abortion, Planned Parenthood charged.

Smith’s office said, however, the legislation would not cause taxes to be raised unless a person or business “is so committed to abortion that they would rather pay more in taxes than choose a plan that does not cover abortion.”

Richards called it “a dangerous bill that goes far beyond any other proposal ever introduced in Congress to take comprehensive health care coverage away from women.” She expressed confidence, however, in the willingness of the Senate and Obama to reject the measure.

The House-passed legislation includes exceptions for abortions in cases of a danger to the mother’s life and pregnancy by rape or incest.

In addition to the Hyde Amendment, the bill would cover such bans currently in individual federal programs as the:

— Helms Amendment, which bars foreign aid funds from being used for abortion as a method of family planning;

— Smith Amendment, which prohibits federal money from paying for elective abortions as part of the health benefits program for federal employees;

— Dornan Amendment, which bans federal funds, as well as congressionally approved local ones, from paying for elective abortions in the District of Columbia.

Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois is the lead Democratic cosponsor of the bill.

In addition to Lipinski, the other Democrats who voted for the ban were Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Jerry Costello of Illinois, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Dale Kildee of Michigan, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

Public opinion surveys during the last two years have shown more than 60 percent of Americans oppose federal funds for abortion or subsidies for abortion coverage.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.