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House GOP, Democrats Resume Fights Over Abortion, Health Care

The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, and the nation's bipartisan sense of satisfaction about it, caused President Obama to ask lawmakers Monday evening to extend that feeling to other areas.

No such luck. As NPR's Andrea Seabrook noted on All Things Considered, House Republicans on Wednesday approved controversial anti-abortion legislation. And that vote came a day after they rolled past the Democratic minority to approve a ban on certain funding of the new health care law.

Wednesday's vote was on a sweeping anti-abortion bill called the "No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act" or HR3.

The legislation, which supporters say is meant to make permanent the Hyde Amendment ban on federal taxpayer money being used to fund abortions, passed the House in a mostly party-line vote — 251 to 175. No Republicans opposed it; 16 Democrats voted for it.

Among its features, the legislation would prevent employers who offer their employees health-insurance policies that cover abortion services from claiming a tax credit for providing that insurance.

Opponents of the bill see it as doing more than making the Hyde Amendment permanent. It would be a significant expansion of anti-abortion language beyond Hyde, they say.

As NPR's Julie Rovner wrote for Shots, our sister blog:

Backers say the measure will simply write into permanent law a decades-old ban on federal funding for abortion. Opponents, however, say it goes much further, by also banning tax subsidies for health insurance plans that include abortion as a covered service, which many do.

This was the bill, some may remember, that originally sought to narrow the exception for funding for rape to only "forcible" rape. That was removed after a torrent of criticism, including a widely circulated send up on The Daily Show in February...

... But the bill could still produce some unexpected consequences if it were to become law.

For example, during the House hearing on the measure at the Ways and Means Committee, the staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation testified that the bill was so vaguely written it could end up applying to many more employers than sponsors originally said they intended to reach.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is very unlikely to pass the legislation and White House officials have said President Obama would veto the bill if it ever did reach his desk.

But House Republicans did include a passage in their Pledge to America promising to end such tax subsidies and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. So Wednesday's vote is consistent with their campaign vow to act on such legislation.

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