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GOP to move on restricting abortion funds

| Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

WASHINGTON--Two House subcommittees hold hearings this week on bills that would expand restrictions on federal funding of abortions.

One would eliminate tax breaks for abortions. The other would restrict use of federal funds for abortions under the new health-care law. While both may pass the Republican-controlled House, their prospects of passing a Democratic-held Senate or escaping President Obama's veto pen are slim to none.

"They can't expect this legislation to go beyond the House or Representatives," said Steve Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "It allows the House Republicans to do something symbolically important for their coalition base."

Still, the bills have alarmed abortion-rights advocates, who say they are attempts to attack legalized abortion -- federally funded or not -- through the tax code and measures to deny women access to the procedure.

"These bills represent a new front in the abortion war," said Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. "The idea ... of using the tax code to impose political views, that's extremely alarming."

Opponents of legal abortion, emboldened by powerful support in a Republican-controlled House, say the bills are just the beginning.

"The Republicans in the House are definitely following the promise they made to undo the damage that's been done," said Kerry Brown, a spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., would codify provisions of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion but must be renewed by Congress annually.

Smith said his bill would "permanently end any U.S. government financial support for abortion whether it be direct funding or by tax credits or any other subsidy." A House Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing on it Tuesday.

Smith's bill stirred a huge uproar among abortion-rights advocates by listing victims of "forcible rape" among those who would be exempted from the bill.

"Forcible rape" wasn't fully defined in the bill, but abortion-rights supporters said the term could be used to block access to abortion for rape victims who were drugged, unconscious or mentally ill.

A spokesman for Smith said the term was dropped from the bill Thursday after Smith concluded that the term was being "misconstrued."

Like Smith's bill, the Protect Life Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Lancaster, would restrict the use of federal funds under the new health-care law, but it isn't as aggressive in terms of using the tax code. The House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, which Pitts chairs, will hold a hearing on it Wednesday.

Late last week, abortion-rights supporters turned their attention to Pitts' bill, saying it contains language that would allow hospitals to deny a woman an abortion, even if her life were in jeopardy.

Andrew Wimer, a Pitts spokesman, said the accusation was false. He said the language is an attempt to include in the health-care law a "conscience clause" for doctors and hospitals that object to performing abortions.

"These are typical attacks that come up," Wimer said.

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