House Judiciary Democrats held a meeting Tuesday to fight the Republican-backed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill that seeks to ban federal coverage of abortion in certain cases of rape or incest.
Ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan) joined Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) and several other House Judiciary Democrats to fight the bill they call "an unacceptable attack on a woman's right to choose and a distraction from the economic relief that Americans expect from Congress," according to a statement from Nadler's office. California Democrat Reps. Maxine Waters, Judy Chu and Linda Sanchez also took part in the meeting, along with Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Mike Quigley (D-Illinois) and Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Florida).
The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would prohibit the use of federal funds on abortions and on medical insurance plans that include abortion as a covered procedure. Employers who offer health benefits with abortion coverage would not receive tax credits. Individuals who work at government-owned or -operated health care facilities, including licensed physicians, would be barred entirely from performing the procedure.
Exceptions would be made for women who are raped or minors under 18 years of age who are the victims of incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), who introduced the bill on January 20 with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois), originally intended for stricter exemptions that would only provide federal abortion coverage in cases of "forcible rape," but backtracked on the language after strong opposition from some members of Congress and advocacy groups like MoveOn.org and EMILY's List. Smith replaced "forcible rape" with the language from the Hyde Amendment, which has prevented government funding of abortions since 1976.
Smith called the bill a "comprehensive policy prohibiting public funding for elective abortion in all federal programs."
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards disagreed. "Under the fig leaf of prohibiting federal funding of abortion, which is already banned, Representative Smith's bill would take comprehensive private health insurance coverage for abortion away from millions of American women, even those who face serious health problems from a pregnancy," Richards said in a statement. "Simply put, the now discarded 'forcible rape' provision is just the beginning of what's wrong with Representative Smith's bill."
On Monday, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) published a letter on EMILY's List stating their opposition to the bill. "We know a woman's right to make her own health decisions must be protected," Gillibrand and Blumenthal wrote. "But this is about even more than choice, this is about making sure women and families can get the care they need when they need it.... When we talk about access to health care facilities and services, we're talking about the health and safety and stability of all American families."
Gillibrand and Blumenthal's letter marked the first time that EMILY's List featured a male author.
Representatives of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood were also in attendance at Tuesday's hearing.
"Anti-choice politicians have gone from redefining rape to denying abortion care to women who will die without it," Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a press release.
"When it comes to attacking women's freedom and privacy, these politicians know no bounds," Keenan stated. "This debate is just getting started. Any member of Congress who has signed his or her name to this agenda must be held accountable for such extreme attacks against women's reproductive-health services."
Tuesday's hearing follows the introduction of a second abortion-focused bill in the House. The "Protect Life Act," sponsored by Lipinski and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pennsylvania), would ensure that hospitals or physicians who refuse to perform abortions, even to save a mother's life, would continue to receive federal funding. The hearing included testimony from a woman whose insurance plan was able to cover the abortion she needed when her pregnancy became medically complicated.
Richards said that House members are becoming involved in unhelpful legislation and forgetting their campaign promises. "We urge the House leadership to drop the misleading Smith bill entirely, and do what the American people elected them to do - focus on jobs and the economy," Richards said.