House begins debate on ‘long overdue’ abortion funding restrictions
By Kevin J. Jones
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hears testimony on Feb. 8
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hears testimony on Feb. 8

.- The House of Representatives has begun debate on proposals targeting funding of abortion in the federal budget.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would create a “long overdue” permanent ban on abortion funding, Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities testified at a crowded Feb. 8 hearing.

Other abortion-related proposals prepared for this Congress include the Protect Life Act and the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.

The Protect Life Act would prevent the 2010 health care law from subsidizing abortion or health care plans that cover abortion. The Title X Abortion Provider bill aims to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider.

Doerflinger told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution on Feb. 8 that there has been “strong” popular and congressional agreement that the federal government should not use tax dollars to support or promote elective abortion. However, this agreement has been implemented in a “piecemeal” and “sometimes sadly inadequate” way.

The occasional discovery of gaps or loopholes in abortion funding restrictions shows the need for a general ban. A general ban would also make unnecessary the need to reapprove annual legislative provisions, he said.

An overarching ban would also remove the abortion debate from other legislation. Had the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act been in place, Doerflinger contended, a major obstacle to last year’s health care legislation would have been removed.

He also praised the legislation’s conscience protections for individuals and institutions which refuse to perform abortions. These provisions, which are similar to those in the proposed Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, would defend against “overt efforts” by the ACLU and other to suppress or eliminate health care guided by Catholic principles.

Cathy Ruse, a Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at the Family Research Council, told the hearing that 67 percent of Americans oppose federal funding for abortion or abortion coverage.

“For over three decades Americans have come together in what may be the only truly bi-partisan agreement possible: That whatever our differences on the underlying question of legality, we agree that the federal government should not subsidize abortions with taxpayer dollars,” Ruse stated.

Kellie Fiedorek, national coordinator of the Americans United for Life initiative Advocates for Life, on Feb. 9 said the hearing was “packed” and required overflow seating. The mood of the hearing was “truly exciting,” in her view, and showed that Americans are ready to “settle” the issue of abortion funding rather than renew anti-funding riders each year.

While some opponents of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act have charged that it distracts from economic issues, Fiedorek thought the proposal would appeal to fiscal concerns.

“People are concerned about the economy. They are concerned about jobs, and they want to cut spending.

“The majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars to support abortion. Their tax dollars should be spent on things other than abortion,” she told CNA.

While members of the U.S. House are now predominately opposed to abortion, the pro-life legislation faces obstacles in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Fiedorek said the key to passage in the Senate is whether its leaders will allow an up-or-down vote.

The House is expecting a vote on the bill by the end of February or early March. There is discussion in the Senate to introduce corresponding legislation in upcoming months.

Senate Democrats such as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) worry Republicans will be able to force a vote on abortion-related bills by attaching them as riders to must-pass legislation, the congressional newspaper The Hill reports.

“We’re going to fight this with everything we have,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) commented.

Opposition to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was also present at the Feb. 8 hearing.

Sara Rosenbaum, a chair of George Washington University’s Department of Health Policy, testified that the bill “dramatically expands” the Hyde Amendment’s conception of public funding and could exclude “certain types of medically necessary procedures” from coverage as well as treatment for post-abortion complications.

She voiced concerns that the legislation does not allow time for the IRS to develop compliance procedures, which could cause employers temporarily to halt health benefits for fear of non-compliance. Insurance and health benefits providers could simply exclude coverage of all abortions rather than risk violating the law and losing their tax-favored treatment.

Doerflinger anticipated Rosenbaum’s point in his testimony, saying:

“As the Supreme Court noted approvingly three decades ago, the purpose of a federal funding ban is to use the government’s funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion. Abortion coverage, and therefore abortion, may become more rare, a result favored by all but the most committed advocates for abortion.”

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