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Abortion Funding Showdown Escalates

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As anti-abortion rights activists and lawmakers escalate their attacks on groups like Planned Parenthood, Democrats and pro-abortion rights groups are digging in their heels with new messaging and grassroots mobilization.

Democratic lawmakers held press conferences today decrying a set of anti-abortion bills in Congress as an "attack on women's health," as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) put it. Meanwhile, protesters against the legislation, wearing red tape over their mouths, were escorted by police out of a congressional hearing room today for silently interrupting a panel discussion on the issue. As they walked out, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said the current debate is about whether it is the federal government's role "to fund a practice that continues to take the lives of over 1 million little Americans every year."

Franks was leading the House Judiciary Committee hearing today on one of the two bills intended to scale back federal funding for abortion services -- Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.)'s "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." The legislation would impose a permanent bar on any federal spending for abortion care, including tax credits for plans that cover abortion.

Tomorrow, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.)'s "Protect Life Act," which would restrict federal funding of any kind for abortions in any of the programs enacted in President Obama's health care reforms.

When Republicans introduced these bills last month, Democrats immediately pounced on the new House majority for putting aside the issue of jobs creation in favor of reviving the abortion debate.

"I do not understand how this Republican Congress can move from that mandate to create jobs, to create opportunity in this country, towards how do we undermine women's reproductive health," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said today.

The abortion bills are unlikely to pass -- or even come up for a vote -- in the Democratic-led Senate, and President Obama would almost certainly veto them if they did pass. Yet as House Republicans continue to press the issue and and build off the momentum of conservative activists, the debate over abortion funding has escalated.

On Monday, Planned Parenthood, a group with a political action committee as well as a network of health clinics (which provide abortion services), announced that it is retraining its staff members nationwide in the wake of a "sting operaton" of sorts in which an anti-abortion rights group secretly recorded staff members at 12 Planned Parenthood health centers. The videos show a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute receiving abortion and contraceptive counseling for underage sex workers at several Virginia clinics and one New Jersey clinic.

The controversy comes as Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is pushing a bill to cut the more than $75 million in federal funding Planned Parenthood affiliates receive to provide family planning to low-income people.

"As a father of two teenage daughters I see the video that came out this morning and last week, and it's an outrage to me that employees of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country are facilitating the abuse of minor girls in this country," Pence said on the House floor today.

The political action committee of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), chair of the House Tea Party caucus and a rising national figure in the Republican party, sent a fundraising e-mail to its supporters this week, targeting Planned Parenthood. In the e-mail, Bachmann lamented the "Fifty three million lives have been snuffed out at abortion clinics around our nation since 1973," the year of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and she promised her PAC would support politicians "who agree that abortion is a crime and must be stopped immediately."

Planned Parenthood is striking back against the Republican assault, mounting a new round of grassroots activism to raise opposition to the two anti-abortion funding bills. The group is organizing nationwide phone banking and e-mail campaigns, in-district visits to congressional offices and circulating a "Stand with Planned Parenthood"petition.

Meanwhile, the progressive website has started a petition targeting a specific provision in Pitts' bill that would allow hospitals to refuse to perform an abortion on a woman, even if her life is at risk.

Liberals last week successfully squelched another controversial provision of Smith's bill, which would have limited exemptions from the legislation to cases of "forcible" rape -- excluding other kinds of rape. ADD LINE ON WHAT IS

Nevertheless, anti-abortion rights activists and lawmakers have said they think the momentum on the issue is on their side.

Watch CBS News Senior Political Producer Rob Hendin speak with's Stephanie Condon and Roll Call's Christina Bellantoni discuss the debate on Washington Unplugged:

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