by Alexander Marsland
On January 28th, the House of Representatives passed a bill to ensure that taxpayers do not directly fund abortions, and to restore the conscience protection regulation that was rescinded in a 2011 executive order. The House voted 227-188 in favor of the bill, primarily along party lines, with the exceptions of 6 Democrats voting for and one Republican against.
A new study by the Kaiser Foundation found that 6.1 million women would gain elective abortion coverage through the Medicaid expansion and new federal premium subsidies. The bill intends to codify the Obama administration’s executive order that denied taxpayer funding of abortion under the Affordable Care Act.
The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, asserting that the Affordable Care Act prohibits federal funds for abortion. This seems to be the general premise of the Democrats’ opposition to the bill: “There is no taxpayer funding for abortion,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said. “The Affordable Care Act does not change that.” Provided the results of a CNN survey last year showed Americans oppose public funding of abortion by a margin of 61% to 35%, this is probably a necessary position for Democrats to take, especially those facing upcoming elections in competitive districts.
Many Democrats seem to be relying on the fact that the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, performs the same function. It is routinely attached to annual appropriation and HHS bills. Its principles were not, however, included in the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and the Obama administration issued an executive order to extend the Hyde Act to the bill.
The Republican majority in the House, however, highlighted a clear violation of the Hyde Amendment pointed out that tax credits will pay for insurance plans that will include elective abortions. The bill, therefore, is intended to explicitly apply its principles to specific programs created by the Affordable Care Act. This argument receives support from the fact that more than 20 states have barred abortion coverage through the health care plans in the exchange. If the bill does not in fact grant taxpayer funding for abortion, the actions of these states would seem unlikely.
The bill would bar this coverage for the remaining states, and the District of Columbia, which created another debate. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the district criticized the bill for “snatching power from a local jurisdiction.”
While it is likely that the bill will never make it past the Senate and the Obama administration has already vowed to stop it cold if it comes to the hands of the President, it serves the threefold purpose of amplifying the Republican message that the administration is failing to implement its own law properly, adding to the pro-life credentials of Republicans from red states, and contrasting the position taken by the administration and senate with that of 60% of the country. The efficacy of this strategy remains to be seen, but the bill could have had some effect on the administration’s decreasing popularity.