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House vote on abortion ban slips

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a permanent, government-wide ban on federal funding of abortion but with a smaller majority than three years ago.

In a Jan. 28 roll call, the House voted 227-188 for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 7, which would install a prohibition on both funds and subsidies for abortion. The vote for passage in 2011, however, was 251-175.

The bill would standardize bans on abortion funding that now exist in various federal programs, many that have to be approved annually, and certify they extend to all agencies. The measure also would halt funds for abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 health care law. In addition, it would make certain that Americans can easily identify before the ban takes effect whether plans in the health care exchanges include abortion coverage and surcharges.

The legislation likely will go no further in this session of Congress. The Senate, with Democrats in the majority, undoubtedly would defeat the ban if it comes up for a vote.

Were the bill to gain Senate passage, President Obama would almost certainly veto it. The White House issued a statement of policy on the eve of the House vote, saying the administration “strongly opposes” the proposal. Obama’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if the legislation were to arrive at his desk, according to the statement.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore applauded the vote, saying, “Good for the House of Representatives for doing the right thing. Let’s pray for the Senate to have a conscience about the unborn and their families.”

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) “strongly supports” the ban, Moore said in a Jan. 27 letter to House leaders and all Southern Baptists in the chamber.

“Human lives in their earliest stages, Scripture teaches us, hold an intrinsic value equal to that of any other life — adolescent, adult, or aged,” said Moore, the ERLC’s president. “We therefore believe every unborn life is worthy of protection. Millions of other Americans, informed by their faith or simply by science, share this view as well. For the government to compel Americans to fund the destruction of the smallest and most vulnerable among us, in violation of those firmly held beliefs, is unconscionable.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the administration’s veto threat “demonstrates yet again that President Obama is engaging in establishing massive federal subsidies for abortion on demand, notwithstanding his evasions and denials.”

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, criticized the House. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-choice America, charged House Republicans with “rolling back basic freedoms for women across this country.”

The smaller majority for the ban on abortion funding resulted from a drop in both Republican and Democratic support. This time, 221 Republicans voted for the bill, while all 235 GOP members supported it in 2011. Only six Democrats backed the measure in this roll call, a decrease from 16 last time.

The six Democrats who voted for the bill were Reps. Henry Cueller of Texas, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

The Hyde Amendment, first enacted in 1976, is the best known prohibition on abortion funding, but others have been implemented in various federal programs. The Hyde Amendment applies to Medicaid and other funding through the annual Labor and Health and Human Services spending bill. A Judiciary Committee report with the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act estimated the Hyde Amendment has saved more than a million babies because 25 percent of women who would have chosen abortion did not do so for a lack of government funds.

In debate before the vote, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., chief sponsor of the ban, said the Affordable Care Act “massively violates” the Hyde Amendment by providing federal funds in the form of tax credits for insurance plans that include election abortion.

He also told the House that the health care act “requires premium payers to be assessed a separate abortion surcharge every month to pay for abortions. We have learned that consumers may never know they are paying the surcharge, despite assurances to the contrary when the ACA was passed.”

Enactment of his bill “will help save lives,” Smith told the House.

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

Sen. Rogers Wicker, R.-Miss., is sponsoring a companion bill in his chamber, but it has only 25 cosponsors.

In other abortion-related news:

— The U.S. Supreme Court announced Jan. 13 it would not review a lower-court ruling striking down Arizona’s ban on abortions at 20 weeks or more into pregnancy — which is 18 weeks post-fertilization — based on evidence a baby in the womb experiences pain by that point. The high court’s refusal means the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is in effect in that circuit.

— The Ohio Department of Health has ordered a license revocation for a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic operated by Martin Haskell, a doctor who helped popularize the partial-birth abortion method. The clinic, Women’s Med in Sharonville, has appealed the order, which would prevent abortion procedures at the center, to a county court. In the 1990s, Haskell became identified with the gruesome procedure that came to be known as partial-birth abortion after he described it in a 1992 paper he presented at a seminar sponsored by the National Abortion Federation. The procedure, which has since been banned in federal law, typically consisted of the delivery of an intact baby feet-first until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierced the base of the infant’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserted a catheter into the opening and suctioned out the brain. The collapse of the skull provided for easier removal of the baby’s head. The method typically was used during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

— In North Carolina, a federal judge has thrown out the state’s Woman’s Right to Know Act (H.B. 854), which requires abortionists to display an ultrasound image of a woman’s pre-born child to her prior to an abortion and also to offer the opportunity to hear the baby’s heartbeat so that the woman has full and complete information before surgery.

Steven H. Aden, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, in a written response, stated, “Giving women the information they need before such a weighty moral and medical decision is more important than an abortionist’s bottom line. This law places the best interests of women and their preborn children first. Abortionists, of all people, should not be given a pass from the common-sense standard that anyone performing risky surgery fully inform the patient of what the procedure is and what it does. We expect the appeals court will reverse this decision and uphold this important law.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).