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Health Care Debate Turns to Abortion Funding

GENERIC: Abortion
AP / CBS
AP / CBS

Updated 2:43 p.m. Eastern Time

On the heels of the House vote to repeal the health care reform law, Republicans turned Thursday to the issue of abortion, holding a morning press conference on the planned "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who led a press conference on the bill, said it would "make clear that taxpayer funding of elective abortion will not be the policy of this government."

The current law, he said, "does not reflect he will of the American people." Added the speaker: "Our members feel very strongly about the sanctity of human life."

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who is introducing the bill in the House, said that it would ensure that taxpayers "no longer are coerced into using taxpayer money to subsidize the killing of an unborn child." He cited President Obama's call for abortion to be "rare" and argued that abortion rates drop without federal subsidies.

Smith also said that the bill includes so-called "conscience protections" that would empower courts and ensure that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals can opt out from having to perform abortions.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, released a statement arguing the bill is designed "to end insurance coverage for virtually all abortions, including private insurance coverage that Americans pay for with their own money, even in cases involving the most severe dangers to a woman's health."

"Under the Smith bill, individuals who have health insurance coverage that includes abortion will face tax penalties because they will not be able to claim existing tax deductions for the cost of their health care," she said. "Similarly, small businesses that offer their employees comprehensive health insurance coverage will also face tax penalties because they will no longer be able to claim existing deductions."

The ACLU also said the bill would eliminate insurance coverage for abortions. Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, cast it as "an insidious and unprecedented attempt to destroy the insurance market for abortion and deny access to basic health care for women."

Backers of abortion rights, including most Democrats, say the health care overhaul law already maintains the Hyde amendment ban on federal funding of abortions.

During the debate over the health care legislation last year, Rep. Bart Stupak led a block of anti-abortion rights House Democrats in refusing to support the bill. He ultimately backed the bill, however, after President Obama agreed to release an executive order backing up the existing ban.

Boehner and Smith said the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would codify the Hyde amendment. They also said they supported a separate bill from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) that would ban federal funding of any kind to organizations that perform abortions. Organizations are already barred from federal funding for abortions but Pence's bill would deny them federal funding for other services as well.

Like the health care repeal bill, the abortion measures appear to be essentially symbolic since it is unlikely they will be taken up by the Democrat-controlled Senate.