House Votes to Restrict Payments for Abortion
The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to impose tighter restrictions on federal payments for abortions, thrusting the issue of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy into the polarizing politics of an election year.
The bill stands no chance of being passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. But that mattered little to members of both parties, who seemed to relish the chance to accuse their opponents of blatantly twisting the issue to their political advantage.
The House vote was 227 to 188, mainly along party lines. Six Democrats voted yes, one Republican voted no and another voted present.
“Here we go again,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. “It’s another battle in the war on women.”
Republicans, bristling at accusations that they are hostile to women’s rights, said Democrats were unfairly characterizing their motives. “I will say it again,” said Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, irritation apparent in her voice, “we are not attacking women’s health care.”
Existing law like the Hyde Amendment already restricts federal financing for abortion services. But because the Hyde Amendment must be renewed every year, Republicans said their proposal would only codify what has been the law of the land.
Though the bill had solid support from the House Republican leaders, their near-unanimity during the vote on Tuesday obscured tensions within the party. Republicans have long sought to restrict abortion rights as a move to satisfy their social conservative base. Just last week, Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, spoke at the March for Life, an annual Washington protest by opponents of legalized abortion.
But the issue has become considerably more challenging for Republicans, both because of comments from Republican men, on and off the campaign trail, and an aggressive effort by Democrats to portray the party as anti-women.
The timing of the vote was telling. Notably, the House leadership chose to bring the measure up on a day when all of Washington was consumed with President Obama’s State of the Union address. Republican leaders also decided to make the bill one of their first orders of business this year, disposing of it nearly 10 months before Election Day. A senior aide to Republican leadership said it would probably be the only time an abortion-related bill would come up this year.
Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, noted how the current legislation had moved through the House almost exclusively with the votes of Republican men. On the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill was approved two weeks ago, the 22 Republicans are all men. “This has been the problem for a long time: men in blue suits and red ties determining what women should do,” Ms. Slaughter said.
Some Republicans said on Tuesday that they would rather be talking about other things, like jobs, and problems with the Affordable Care Act.
“I’ve always said that we ought to avoid taking on these hot-button social issues; they don’t do us any good,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. Mr. Dent voted for the abortion bill, but he noted how some of his colleagues were so ill-equipped to talk about women’s health issues that the party leadership has had to advise its members how to approach the topic more delicately.
“Here’s my suggestion for a communications strategy for some of these guys,” Mr. Dent said. “Four words: Shut the bleep up.”
Republicans gave the bill an unremarkable title — the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” — which they said was intended to convey an uncontroversial and popular goal. But Democrats have argued that the act is a deceptive assault on women’s rights that would further restrict coverage for abortion among federal employees, low-income women and those who visit military hospitals overseas, among others.
Over and over, Democrats on Tuesday used the words “war on women” to describe Republicans’ actions, a line of attack that was potent for them in the 2012 elections. It is a line they plan to repeat often in this year’s midterm elections.
But not all Democrats think that their party is well served by attacking the Republicans as anti-woman, especially with the economy foremost on voters’ minds.
“I’m a skeptic,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont. “The people we represent need jobs, need better incomes and want us to focus on the economy. To the extent that we get involved in issues that take us away from that, it legitimately undercuts our credibility.”
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