Dem senators promise to block House abortion legislation

With House Republicans hosting two hearings on abortion legislation this week, two junior Democratic senators are promising to block efforts to place new restrictions on the practice.

Writing for the website of EMILY’s List, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) accused House Republicans of pulling a “bait and switch” by focusing early on anti-abortion legislation instead of the economy.

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“You probably recognize the Republican agenda as a radical departure from the days when they promised jobs,” the senators wrote to EMILY’s List supporters Monday afternoon. “And you know their claims of ‘limited government’ shouldn’t include limits on our access to healthcare.”

The abortion battle heats up this week, with the House set to have hearings on two new bills that would place new restrictions on abortions. On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which seeks to eliminate federal funding for abortion. On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subpanel will take up the Protect Life Act, which specifies that the sweeping healthcare reform law cannot fund abortion.

With both sides of the debate gearing up for a fight on the Hill, the Obama administration contends that the federal government and healthcare reform do not provide federal funding for abortion. 

Abortion rights groups, getting their message out ahead of the House hearings this week, are also seizing on the GOP’s early attention to abortion.

“The new House came to Washington pledging their deep commitment to smaller government, but the jig is up,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, on Monday.  “Within a matter of weeks, anti-choice lawmakers have introduced — and House leadership has declared ‘a priority’ — unprecedented government intrusions into women’s personal medical decisions.”

Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates have been pushing the GOP to tackle abortion legislation since Republicans won back the House in November. The party’s decision to pick Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) as chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subpanel was urged by anti-abortion groups.

Early into the abortion battle, Gillibrand and Blumenthal are emerging as Senate Democrats’ top voices on abortion rights. Last week, the duo urged their Senate colleagues to "stop these bills in their tracks."

The debate over abortion has already turned fierce in the first month of the new Congress. Abortion rights advocates raised the alarm when legislative language proposed by the GOP seemingly made a distinction between “rape” and “forcible rape.”

Those groups are now objecting to language that would allow a provider to deny abortion care based on personal views. The groups say the language would allow a doctor to deny life-saving abortion care in emergency situations, but anti-abortion lawmakers say the legislation is consistent with previous “conscience rights” protections approved by Congress.