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House passes abortion insurance restriction

House GOP vote to restrict abortion coverage is another chance for them to deny the "war on women"
Pro-abortion and anti-abortion protestors rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 22, 2014.
Pro-abortion and anti-abortion protestors rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 22, 2014.

The so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Bill,” which despite its name, actually restricts private insurance coverage of abortion through the exchanges, passed the House of Representatives today, 226-188. The bill, which likely will not get a vote in the Senate and which President Obama has vowed to veto, was an opportunity for both parties to rehearse their political arguments on the “war on women." That rhetoric is certain to play a key role in elections this year and beyond.

Both parties remained disciplined and on-message. Democrats pointed out that the bill punishes low-income women, and that the Hyde Amendment already bans taxpayer funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. They also said the vote was, in the words of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, "wasting time" that could be spent dealing with joblessness.

Republicans say that federal subsidies to help people buy private insurance that may or may not cover abortion counts as taxpayer funding. About half the states have already passed into law some form of ban on some or all private insurance covering abortion. 

Republicans--with the help of more than half of the 19 GOP women in the House--argued that abortion isn't actually about women, so there is no war on women. 

“This bill is not an attack on women or an attack on women’s rights," said Rep. Virginia Foxx. Referring to Democrats' characterization of the bill as conservative men waging a war on women, particularly in the male-dominated subcommittee, she said, "I think it’s wonderful that we had so many men here today speaking on behalf of the unborn.”

While Democratic women -- who make up three quarters of the women in Congress -- came out in full force against the bill, including leadership like Pelosi and Democratic National Committee leader Debbie Wasserman Schulz, some Democratic men also condemned it. Rep. Rush Holt called the bill an “ideological, mean-spirited lost cause.” In pursuing their "vendetta against the Affordable Care Act," he said, Republicans were seeking to “make the federal government interfere with a woman’s right to use her own money for legal health services.” 

“It’s like all we do around here. It's propaganda. It’s politics," said Rep. Henry Waxman. "The Republicans try to make people believe that their taxpayer dollars are being used for abortion. It’s not true.”

The fact that the bill was coming to a floor vote just hours before the State of the Union speech, while unemployment benefits have been allowed to expire, wasn't lost on Democrats. Said Rep. Kathy Castor, "The Republicans' top priority today is to interfere in the lives and health of women in this country." 

Rep. Jim McDermott was even blunter: "This bill is insulting to women, and the Republicans are asking for it in the next election," he said.