Panel OKs federal abortion funding bill

After a highly charged three-hour markup, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to approve a bill that would deny federal funding for abortions. 

On a 23-14 vote, the panel approved H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, on a largely party-line vote. Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi was the only Democrat to vote for the measure. 

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A GOP leadership source said the legislation should hit the House floor in 2011. The source added the House floor debate could be as early as this spring. The measure is expected to pass the lower chamber.

The panel defeated all 15 Democratic amendments offered during debate on the underlying bill that would codify current federal policies that ban taxpayer funds from paying for abortion and deny individuals from receiving federal tax deductions or credits in connection with elective abortion procedures.

Throughout the markup, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle traded barbs. 

Anti-abortion-rights members accused their political opponents of “killing children” and compared fetuses to slaves and to Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who heads the Judiciary subcommittee that has jurisdiction on the legislation, served as the GOP point-man on Thursday.

“We’re getting to ask the real question — does abortion take the life of a child? … If it does, then those of us sitting here in the chambers of freedom live in the midst of the greatest human genocide in the history of humanity,” Franks said in his opening statement. Franks, who is considering a run for the Senate, attacked an amendment that he said would allow President Obama, “the most radically pro-abortion president in the history of the country, [to] have [an] easily available mechanism to block the implementation of this legislation.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took offense to that characterization: “Without doing a chronological analysis of presidents starting with George Washington,” she said, “I would appreciate if we could restrain our comments.”

Franks responded that “the record is clear. Mr. Obama certainly is on the record as the most pro-abortion president in history … I wish it weren’t true, I really do.”

Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) both rolled their eyes, and Lofgren interrupted Franks to direct her frustration at GOP lawmakers: “For a group that says they want to respect the rights of individuals to make their own minds up to live their own lives, this has been a stunning morning … I’ve never met anybody who is pro-abortion, not in my whole life. … It’s a great disservice to women — it shows a real lack of understanding and ignorance to describe someone as pro-abortion for the fact that they want individuals to make up their own mind, not the government.” Several lawmakers who support abortion rights said they do not believe that life begins at conception. 

“Some might argue that life begins with the potential, with just one sperm ... with just … one egg, so if we decided that we’re going to make it illegal for a man to get a vasectomy because we believe that life begins at that point, what’s to stop us from doing that?” Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.) said.

“We can argue arbitrarily that life begins at conception, which is the sperm penetrating the egg. We can decide it like that, but you are not respecting those who think that sperm or the egg standing by itself represent the potential life and that potential should not be cut short,” Johnson continued as lawmakers on the dais exchanged confused glances and stifled smiles.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, “H.R. 3 does not ban abortion. It also does not restrict abortions, or abortion coverage in healthcare plans, as long as those abortions or plans use only private or state funds.”

Democrats pointed out that the GOP bill would serve as a tax increase, in effect, on companies that hold policies that cover abortion procedures. Under H.R. 3, those companies would not receive a tax break in the president’s new healthcare law.

Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said, “This bill seeks to expand restrictions in current law and to impose an unprecedented penalty — by use of the tax code — on privately funded healthcare choices made by women and their families. Its goal — and effect, if ever enacted — is to make abortion and coverage for abortion services completely unavailable.”

Earlier this month, Republicans removed controversial language in their measure that would have substituted “forcible rape” for “rape.” “I am pleased that public pressure has caused the sponsors to reconsider their extreme position, and that we will have the opportunity to remove those outrageous provisions,” Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) said at the markup.