Republicans said throughout the day that the bill is needed because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was approved without any limitation on funding for abortion rights. They also dismissed President Obama's Executive Order that Democrats say reinforces this prohibition.
"Thus ObamaCare, when phased in fully in November 2014, will open up the floodgates of public funding for abortion in a myriad of programs, including and especially in exchanges, resulting in more dead babies and wounded mothers than would otherwise have been the case," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said.
But Democrats furiously rejected all of these arguments, and said PPACA does include language that prohibits abortion funding. More importantly, they said the bill, offered by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), would give hospitals the option not to provide emergency care related to abortions if they so choose, and would prevent newly created state insurance exchanges that will be created under PPACA to offer abortion coverage.
"This bill is a radical departure from existing law," House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "This legislation is bad public policy, it is the wrong priority for Congress, it is an assault on women's health, and women should know that it prevents them from using their own dollars to buy their own private insurance should they be part of an exchange."
Democrat anger over the spill erupted early in the debate, when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Republicans are "misogynist" for bringing up the legislation. Other groups who oppose the bill also bristled at the GOP attempt to expand anti-abortion laws beyond their current scope.
Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill is "outrageous" in how it could lead some hospitals to deny medical treatment to women, and said there is evidence that some hospitals would in fact elevate their opposition to abortion above the need to perform certain emergency procedures.
"This is one in a line of anti-choice measures in the House, but it's really both unprecedented and unconscionable the way it blatantly tries to override emergency protections," she said. "They call it the protect life act, but it allows hospitals to deny treatment in emergency situations."
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, agreed with Democrat complaints that the bill gives the government more control over people's lives. "The House's attacks on women's freedom and privacy are out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities," she said.
"House leaders just can't keep their eye on the ball and focus on jobs and the economy," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "In fact, this bill will increase the economic burden on already struggling American families by eliminating health insurance provisions that could save them from bankruptcy."
The White House said on Wednesday that it would veto the bill if it were to pass Congress, but the Senate regardless is not expected to consider it.