Senate Republicans push bill to limit abortion coverage

Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) on Thursday introduced legislation to ban federal subsidies to any insurance plan that covers abortion services.

The bill is designed to eliminate a controversial provision of the Democrats' new healthcare reform law that allows subsidized plans to offer abortion coverage if patients pay separately, and with their own money, for that portion of the coverage.

Critics of that arrangement argue that, because money is fungible, segregating taxpayer dollars from patient dollars is impossible, leaving no way to prevent federal subsidies for elective abortions. 

The Coburn/Hatch bill would simply prohibit any federally subsidized plan from offering election abortion coverage in any form. The proposal effectively extends the Hyde Amendment — a 24-year-old law that bans taxpayer subsidies of abortion under Medicaid and other federal health programs — to the new healthcare reform law. 

“Forcing Americans to pay for abortion services with their own dollars is a grave abuse of government authority," Coburn said in a statement. "The administration’s track record of ambiguity in this area underscores the need for federal legislation clarifying, once and for all, that public funds will not be used to pay for abortion services under the new health law."

Aside from Hatch and Coburn, 23 upper-chamber Republicans have signed on as original cosponsors.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced an identical House bill in April.