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House passes bill barring funding for abortions

Nancy Pelosi
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., accompanied by House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., attend a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday Oct. 13, 2011. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Updated 11 p.m. ET

The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that Republicans say is necessary to keep taxpayer money from funding abortions but that Democrats call "savage" to women and possibly deadly.

The bill, which passed 251-172, according to The Associated Press, would bar federal funding for abortions. It would also prohibit women from using tax subsidies acquired through President Obama's health care reforms to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother's health. Additionally, the bill would let health care providers refuse to perform an abortion if it violates their personal beliefs.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press briefing Thursday that the legislation is a "savage" attempt to withhold health care for women. She called the provision allowing doctors to refuse to perform an abortion particularly dangerous and could result in a woman dying.

"One aspect of it could undermine the responsibility of hospitals to deal with women who come in a crisis situation where their lives and health are at risk, and hospitals may not be required to serve them under this bill," she said. "When the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor of health care providers... it's just appalling."

House leaders said Thursday they were putting the measure up for a vote to fulfill a campaign promise made in the GOP's "Pledge to America."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the GOP for following through, saying in a statement that the vote was "long awaited and necessary... to stop taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare."

When he signed his health care reforms into law, President Obama also signed an executive order to ensure that no taxpayer dollars would cover abortions -- a move he made to win over some conservative Democrats. But Republicans argue that the executive order could easily be undone.

The long-standing Hyde Amendment also bars federal funding for abortions, but Republicans say this law doesn't adequately apply to Mr. Obama's health care overhaul, since the law significantly expanded the federal government's role in health care.

Democrats hammered the GOP for voting on this measure even though the economy remains the public's top priority.

"Everybody in America has the creation of jobs as their top priority and what are we doing, but wasting time," Pelosi said.

The pro-abortion rights group NARAL points out that with this bill, the GOP-led House will have voted on seven anti-abortion rights bills this year. "The jobs agenda? Ha! That was so 2010," the group wrote on its blog.

The bill is unlikely to progress in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.