House passes bill to prevent taxpayer-funded abortion in health care law

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Oct. 13 that would prevent federal taxpayer funding of abortion under President Obama’s health care law. The approved measure would also strengthen conscience protection for health care employees.

“A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the American people and ought to be the law of the land,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the House floor. 

“But the law, particularly as it is currently enforced, does not reflect the will of the people. This has created additional uncertainty given that Americans are concerned not just about how much we’re spending, but how we’re spending it.”

H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act, passed by a vote of 251-172 in the House.

The bill makes certain that “the Hyde amendment applies to all the programs that are both authorized and appropriated in Obamacare,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) during the debate over the act.

The Hyde Amendment is a provision added annually to appropriations bills providing federal funds for health care. It prohibits federal funding for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

“Nothing less than a comprehensive prohibition on public funding, promotion and facilitation of elective abortion in any federal health program, satisfies the demands of social justice,” said Rep. Smith.

The Protect Life Act also specifies that health insurance carriers cannot be forced to cover abortion, and protects the conscience rights of health care individuals and institutions who refuse to participate in abortions.

The United States bishops applauded the passage of the bill.

“By passing the Protect Life Act, the House has taken an important step toward authentic health care reform that respects the dignity of all, from conception onward,” said Deirdre McQuade, pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bill is expected to face heavy opposition in the Senate, and the Obama administration has threatened to veto the measure. A statement released by the administration on Oct. 12 said that “the legislation intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today.”

On Sep. 9, 2009, President Obama told Congress that under his legislation, “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

The administration claims that the Affordable Care Act, along with an executive order issued by President Obama in March 2010, already prohibit federal funding of abortion, except in limited cases. 

However, critics contend that the language of the act does not prohibit such funding. They argue that the president’s executive order is inadequate because it does not amend the bill and would be overturned if brought to federal court.

The Obama administration criticized the Protect Life Act, saying that it “goes well beyond the safeguards found in current law and reinforced in the President’s Executive Order by restricting women’s private insurance choices.”
If the bill is passed by Congress, the president’s “senior advisors would recommend that he veto” it, the Oct. 12 statement said.

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