Lawmakers spar on abortion ahead of two House committee hearings
As key committees prepare to debate two House Republican-sponsored bills on abortion funding this week, Senate Democrats on Tuesday took aim at the GOP proposals as "extreme" and charged that they are a distraction from Congress's top priority of kick-starting the economy.
"We're here today to send a clear message to our Republican colleagues on the House side: Your agenda on women's health is extreme. It breaks faith with a decades-long bipartisan compromise. And according to medical experts, your agenda risks the health and the lives of women," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a Capitol news conference.
Boxer was joined by several other Democratic lawmakers including Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.). The gathering was the first of two Democratic-led news events Tuesday aimed at pushing back against the two abortion-funding bills, which are slated to be taken up by House committees this week.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on H.R. 3, known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing on H.R. 358, the "Protect Life Act," sponsored by the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).
Judiciary Committee Democrats and representatives from several pro-abortion-rights groups are holding a news conference ahead of Tuesday's hearing on H.R. 3, which they denounce as "unacceptable attack on a woman's right to choose and a distraction from the economic relief that Americans expect from Congress."
Both measures would expand restrictions on federal abortion funding. The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would eliminate tax breaks for abortions and permanently prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions across all federal programs by codifying the Hyde Amendment, which is typically renewed annually. It would also reinstate a ban on D.C. abortion funding, a move that some have contended would infringe on the district's right self-government.
The "Protect Life Act" would prohibit federal funding of abortions under the national health care overhaul. It also would prevent funding from being withheld from institutions that are opposed to providing abortions.
Abortion-rights advocates charge that the measures would allow hospitals to refuse to provide abortions in cases where the woman's life is threatened. They also argue that the bills go too far in prohibiting women from using their own private money to obtain insurance that covers a range of reproductive care.
In addition, the Smith bill sparked controversy through its use of the term "forcible rape," which women's rights groups charged was an attempt to change the definition of rape. The term was dropped from the bill last week.
The heated emotions surrounding the abortion debate were on display at Tuesday's Senate Democratic news conference. Lautenberg said the Pitts and Smith bills sound "like a third-world country that's requiring women to wear head shawls, cover their faces even if they don't want to do it."
Blumenthal, a freshman senator who served as Connecticut's attorney general for two decades, noted that he's new to the Senate, but "not new to this battle."
"Since the days of Roe v. Wade when I clerked for Justice Blackmun, as a state legislator, as attorney general, I have fought this battle, and I can tell you that this measure is an unprecedented assault on women's health," Blumenthal said. "It creates reprehensible risk to the health of countless women across the country. It puts them in jeopardy of losing vital health services that imperil not just them, but their families."
Slated to testify at Tuesday's hearing are Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Sara Rosenbaum, professor of health law and policy and chair of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services; and Family Research Council senior fellow Cathy Ruse.
| February 8, 2011; 1:32 PM ET
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