House OKs Smith bill to tighten Obamacare abortion ban
People or companies receiving federal subsidies through the Affordable Care Act could no longer get health insurance policies that cover abortion under a bill, sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, that passed the House Tuesday.
The action, decried by Democrats as taking away choice from poor women and raising taxes on companies providing comprehensive benefits, comes a day after President Donald Trump issued an anti-abortion order dealing with international aid and three days before demonstrators are due to hold a rally and “March for Life” in Washington.
Approved 238-183, with three Democrats joining unanimous Republicans, the vote marks the fourth time Smith’s bill has passed the House since 2011. Prior bills stalled in the Senate, partly because it was expected then-President Barack Obama would veto them.
Trump is expected to be more amenable, especially since on Monday he reinstated the so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. aid from supporting international groups that promote abortion.
All of New Jersey’s Republicans voted “yes” on Smith’s bill, and all Democrats voted “no.”
Smith, a Republican from Mercer County and longtime leader of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said the bill would permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, a rider to annual spending bills that bars direct government funding for abortion through such health programs as Medicaid and federal workers’ insurance.
The bill also would apply the ban to include subsidies received by individuals and tax credits provided to small businesses for insurance bought through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Abortion opponents had tried to get such a provision in the original law in 2010, but failed.
Because insurers commingle federal dollars with premiums paid by customers, there’s no way to prove an abortion would be paid for with premiums and not with prohibited taxpayer funds, Smith said. A Government Accountability Office study found more than 1,000 insurance plans offered through Obamacare around the country covered abortion, he said.
“When you buy the plan that pays for abortion, that is paying for abortion,” Smith said at a meeting of the House Rules Committee on Monday night. “Those dollars are coming right out of the U.S. Treasury.”
Democrats said Smith and the Republicans were expanding the concept of federal funding to include products people buy with their own money, and by taking away subsidies or tax credits for those who buy such plans, they were hurting poorer women and raising taxes on businesses providing comprehensive benefits.
“The House is considering a radical bill that would not only undermine a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions, but also her ability to even choose her own health insurance plan,” said freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-Wyckoff, in his first floor speech on legislation.
Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat from Camden County, said Republicans were “reigniting the culture wars that divide us” instead of working on issues where there could be bipartisan cooperation, such as creating jobs and growing the economy.
The ban on insurance coverage for abortion would continue exceptions in the Hyde Amendment for pregnancies caused by rape, incest or those that endanger the mother’s life. A 2011 version of Smith’s bill initially ignited controversy by using the word “forcible” before the exception for rape, but that adjective was removed before the vote and is not in the current bill.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi is sponsoring a companion measure.
“This is the fourth Congress that he has introduced it,” Wicker spokesman Ryan Taylor said. “Senator Wicker has said that the time is ripe to enact a permanent solution that protects American taxpayers from funding abortions. He is committed to working with his colleagues to bring this important legislation up for a vote in the Senate.”