By Julie Rovner, NPR
Published May 4, 2011
Update 5:40 p.m. ET: Late Wednesday afternoon the House voted 251-175 to pass a bill that would ban tax subsidies for many private insurance plans that include coverage for abortion services.
The GOP-led House of Representatives is set to approve one of its top bills today. And the title lets you know right up front what’s on the line.
It’s labeled HR 3, but is better known as the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” Backers say the measure will simply write into permanent law a decades-old ban on federal funding for abortion. Opponents, however, say it goes much further, by also banning tax subsidies for health insurance plans that include abortion as a covered service, which many do.
This was the bill, some may remember, that originally sought to narrow the exception for funding for rape to only “forcible” rape. That was removed after a torrent of criticism, including a widely circulated send up on The Daily Show in February.
“Are drunk women who are raped covered?” asked Daily Show Host Jon Stewart. Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent Kristen Schaal replied with her own questions: “Well, were they dressed slutty? Was it a bachelorette party? A local bar or a chain?”
But the bill could still produce some unexpected consequences if it were to become law.
For example, during the House hearing on the measure at the Ways and Means Committee, the staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation testified that the bill was so vaguely written it could end up applying to many more employers than sponsors originally said they intended to reach.
That means that many small businesses would either have to change their insurance plans (to ensure that they don’t include abortion coverage) or else lose tax benefits.
Not surprisingly, that’s irritated members of the small business community.
“Small businesses that finally determine that their health insurance policy does in fact cover even one abortion service will be financially punished in one of two ways,” Frank Knapp, President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a blog post for The Hill. “Either they can keep their present policy and lose thousands of dollars in hard won tax credits or they will give up their current health plan and most likely have to pay higher premiums for a new plan.”
Still, abortion opponents now in control of the House intend to press ahead, with the strong backing of anti-abortion groups. “Americans United for Life Action will score this key vote,” said the group’s CEO Charmaine Yoest. “Americans will be watching closely to see whether Congress understands that social conservatives and economic watchdogs have found common ground. Getting the American taxpayer out of the business of subsidizing abortion is a budget cutting priority.”
In the end, even the expected House passage of the legislation is unlikely to result in a new federal law. The bill would first need to clear the Democrat-controlled Senate and overcome a threatened veto by President Obama.