GOP abortion bill picking up steam in House

A spokesman for Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the bill's sponsor, said he is hoping for floor consideration before the start of summer.

Republicans assign the bill, H.R. 3, a high priority in large part because they see it as a way of correcting last year's healthcare law, which Republicans say includes no language to prevent federal funding of abortion. During the Judiciary markup, committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said President Obama agreed to sign an executive order that he said limits federal funding, rather than face an amendment that might have complicated the healthcare bill.

"But an executive order cannot trump the text of legislation enacted by Congress," Smith said. Smith also noted recent comments from former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who said the executive order does not have the force of law, and that he came up with the idea for an executive order as a way of avoiding statutory language.

"So Congress must pass H.R. 3 to put into law a ban on the federal funding of abortions," Smith concluded.

The bill would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion, bar funding of any health coverage plan that covers abortion and proscribe the inclusion of abortion in any health plan offered by a federal or District of Columbia healthcare group.

In the markup earlier this month, Smith said the bill "does not ban abortion," but sets up a "government-wide prohibition on abortion funding," and said recent poll data shows that 77 percent of Americans said federal funds "should never pay for abortion."

Democrats, in the meantime, have argued that while Republicans claim they are trying to remove taxpayer money from abortion decisions, the bill would make it much harder to find health coverage that pays for abortion services.

"All the rhetoric about public funding is a smokescreen," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in the markup. "The real purpose and effect of the bill is to make it virtually impossible to buy private healthcare insurance that covers abortions with private money, to drive those policies out of the private market."