The House on Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit federal funds from going toward any health care plan that covers abortion services, marking the chamber’s passage of its first major abortion-rights measure since May.
The vote came shortly after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
In addition to blocking federal funding of health care plans that cover abortion services, the bill, authored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and known as the “Protect Life Act,” would prevent funds from being withheld from health care institutions that are opposed to providing abortions.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced the planned vote in a speech at last week’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of more than 3,000 social conservatives in Washington.
But this week, there was little fanfare surrounding the measure; both Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not mention it in their weekly remarks to reporters, instead focusing their comments on President Obama’s jobs bill, which was blocked by Senate Republicans earlier this week.
On Thursday, Democrats criticized both the substance of the legislation as well as the decision by House Republican leaders to move the bill to the floor as a “waste of time” that otherwise could have been spent on jobs measures.
“It’s appalling,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Thursday morning news conference, arguing that “women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed.”
“America’s families deserve better than this and again, today is another example of a wasted opportunity instead of taking up even an aspect of the president’s jobs bill that could create jobs,” she continued. “I can’t even describe to you the logic of what they are doing.”
Boehner defended the bill at his weekly news conference, contending that Republicans were upholding last year’s “Pledge to America” by moving forward with the legislation.
“Listen, we’ve done four or five solid job creation bills this week, and this bill was part of our Pledge to America,” he said. “We’re keeping our word to the American people, and we’re going to do it.”
As they have done during the heated battles over abortion-rights legislation earlier this Congress, rank-and-file members took to the House floor Thursday morning and afternoon to rally in support or opposition to the measure.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) called the measure “a deeply flawed and deeply divisive bill that will not pass the Senate and will be vetoed if it reaches the president’s desk.”
“Let’s be serious here. Republicans have yet to pass one single jobs bill. ... The Protect Life Act is unnecessary and clearly is politically motivated,” he said. “Republicans are resorting to their old bag of tricks and pulling the abortion card in order to distract from their clear lack of leadership.”
Republican members countered that the House continues to act on jobs-related measures and that the ball is in the Senate’s court to move forward on legislation already passed by the lower chamber.
And, as freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) argued, the House at any moment is engaged on any number of issues not related to jobs, such as the ongoing Fast and Furious investigation.
“I don’t think it has to create jobs for it to be worth our time,” Gowdy said in an interview. “I do find it curious that matters of life – regardless of where you are on the merits – that matters of life would be second-tier to a job. ... We passed a defense appropriations bill; is that related to job-creation? It’s sophistry.”