House Passes Antiabortion Bill

The House approved the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Here’s what it means.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Pro-life activists participate in the annual March for Life as they march up the Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue January 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Activists from all around the country gathered in Washington for the event to protest the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that helped to legalize abortion in the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Jan. 28, 2014, 12:22 p.m.

The House passed a bill Tues­day that ul­ti­mately seeks to lim­it abor­tion ser­vices by keep­ing fed­er­al dol­lars as far away from them as pos­sible.

The No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act, or H.R. 7, was ap­proved on a 227-188 vote Tues­day. The bill would ex­pand re­stric­tions on fund­ing in light of the fed­er­al sub­sidies now avail­able for private in­sur­ance plans un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The bill is a bit of a mis­nomer, as fed­er­al fund­ing is already largely pro­hib­ited from go­ing to­ward abor­tion ser­vices. The Hyde Amend­ment, first passed in 1976, bars such fund­ing ex­cept in cases of rape, in­cest, or en­dan­ger­ment to the preg­nant wo­man. The pro­vi­sion is not per­man­ent law, but it is passed each year as a rider to the ap­pro­pri­ations bill.

Un­til the ACA, the Hyde Amend­ment ap­plied primar­ily to Medi­caid, as the ma­jor vehicle for pub­licly fun­ded care. However, the health care law com­plic­ates things, as it is the first time fed­er­al fund­ing is go­ing to­ward private health plans, in the form of tax cred­its to low-in­come in­di­vidu­als. As a res­ult, Pres­id­ent Obama signed an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der in 2010 that pre­vents the sub­sidies from be­ing used for abor­tion ser­vices.

However, the No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act would take re­stric­tions fur­ther, es­sen­tially co­di­fy­ing and sig­ni­fic­antly ex­pand­ing the Hyde Amend­ment. The bill seeks to make the amend­ment per­man­ent law, and to pre­vent fed­er­al funds from go­ing not just to­ward abor­tions them­selves but to­ward any plan, pro­vider, or fa­cil­ity that of­fer such ser­vices.

The ACA does not pre­vent in­sur­ance plans from in­clud­ing abor­tion cov­er­age, al­though every ex­change must in­clude one plan that does not.

If a plan does not of­fer abor­tion cov­er­age, or of­fers it only un­der the three ex­cep­tions, then there is no con­flict and fed­er­al sub­sidies may be ap­plied to the plan in full. If the plan does in­clude abor­tion cov­er­age, sub­sidies may go to­ward the rest of the plan ex­cept those ser­vices. If a wo­man elects to have an abor­tion, the cost of that pro­ced­ure is sep­ar­ate from the rest of her premi­um, and she is fully re­spons­ible.

H.R. 7 would pre­vent sub­sidies from go­ing to these lat­ter plans at all, for both in­di­vidu­als and small busi­nesses. The bill would ban fed­er­al funds from be­ing ap­plied to any health plan that in­cludes abor­tion cov­er­age, and would pro­hib­it any fed­er­al or D.C. health fa­cil­ity, and any pro­vider em­ployed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment or D.C., from of­fer­ing those ser­vices.

This means that small busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als would need to se­lect only plans that do not cov­er abor­tion, or forgo the tax cred­its they are eli­gible for, re­gard­less of wheth­er the con­sumers ac­tu­ally use the abor­tion ser­vices.

The bill gives in­surers a big in­cent­ive to drop abor­tion cov­er­age from their plans, or risk los­ing the large pool of con­sumers who re­ceive the law’s sub­sidies. Abor­tion cov­er­age is his­tor­ic­ally re­l­at­ively ubi­quit­ous in health plans, so the ef­fect could be far-reach­ing.

Sup­port­ers of the bill ar­gue that the sep­ar­a­tion cur­rently in place is not suf­fi­cient, and that tax­pay­ers will end up sub­sid­iz­ing oth­ers’ abor­tions through their premi­ums. Many have not been shy in ac­know­ledging that the elim­in­a­tion of abor­tion ser­vices is their ul­ti­mate goal.

“Dur­ing the time the Hyde Amend­ment has been in place, prob­ably mil­lions and mil­lions of in­no­cent chil­dren and their moth­ers have been spared the hor­rors of abor­tion,” Chair­man Bob Good­latte said at the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s markup of H.R. 7 this month. “The policy we will be dis­cuss­ing today has likely giv­en Amer­ica the gift of mil­lions more chil­dren and, con­sequently, mil­lions more moth­ers and mil­lions more fath­ers, mil­lions more life­times and tril­lions more lov­ing ges­tures and oth­er hu­man gifts in all their di­verse forms.”

Abor­tion-rights sup­port­ers point to that goal in their ar­gu­ments against H.R. 7. They say the bill would pen­al­ize wo­men for ob­tain­ing ser­vices that aren’t re­lated to abor­tion and would cause in­surers to drop cov­er­age, lim­it­ing ac­cess to abor­tion. Fur­ther­more, they say, the bill would put the de­term­in­a­tion of rape or in­cest un­der the jur­is­dic­tion of the IRS rather than pro­viders, be­cause it is the agency over­see­ing the ACA tax cred­its.

“The real goal of this bill is to make abor­tion and cov­er­age for abor­tion ser­vices paid for by private in­di­vidu­als with their own money un­avail­able,” said rank­ing mem­ber John Con­yers. “It does it by adding re­stric­tions and im­pos­ing an un­pre­ced­en­ted pen­alty un­der the guise of the fed­er­al tax code on privately fun­ded health care choices made by wo­men in con­sulta­tion with their fam­il­ies and their faith.”

States could still choose to provide their own fund­ing for abor­tion ser­vices un­der the bill, but not D.C. This would leave wo­men in the Dis­trict without any real re­course for as­sist­ance.

The vote comes as the Re­pub­lic­an Party is demon­strat­ing re­newed en­thu­si­asm for its base’s an­ti­abor­tion mes­sage.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee passed a res­ol­u­tion last week that en­cour­ages can­did­ates to speak up against abor­tion and the “war on wo­men” nar­rat­ive. Al­though the ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic re­mains in fa­vor of up­hold­ing Roe v. Wade, the GOP wants to fo­cus the de­bate on spe­cif­ic, con­ten­tious ele­ments — such as tax­pay­er fund­ing — to paint Demo­crats as ex­trem­ists.

Re­pub­lic­an state of­fi­cials have passed a re­cord num­ber of abor­tion re­stric­tions in re­cent years — 205 in the past three years, with 70 in 2013 alone, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ana­lys­is by the Guttmach­er In­sti­tute — but H.R. 7 would take a big step in lim­it­ing abor­tion ac­cess on a na­tion­al level.

The Sen­ate is un­likely to pass the No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act, and the White House is­sued a state­ment Monday strongly op­pos­ing the bill.

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