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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Abortion, conscience bill progresses through U.S. House

I've been attending several highly contentious hearings and markup sessions on abortion-related bills in the House of Representatives. Thankfully, the House has dedicated several staff to a Pro-Life Caucus who do an excellent job tracking the details of legislation and providing informative updates. Here's the latest:

The Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 358, the “Protect Life Act” Tuesday by a vote of 33-19. Democrats Mike Ross (AR) and Jim Matheson (UT) and all Republicans on the Committee voted for passage of the bill. Several hostile amendments were offered, and Democrat Mike Ross (AR) joined all Republicans on the Committee to defeat each hostile amendment. Groups may wish to thank Members who voted pro-life for their votes in Committee.
H.R. 358, introduced by Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), would prohibit funding for abortion and abortion coverage under P.L. 111-148, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (PPACA). The legislation also protects conscience rights for health care providers by specifying that Federal agencies and State or local governments funded by PPACA may not discriminate against health care entities that refuse to be involved in abortion.
The following amendments were offered during the markup today:
• Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) offered an amendment to the anti-mandate provision in the “Protect Life Act.” The DeGette amendment would have allowed PPACA to be used to mandate that health care providers facilitate abortion by providing certain information including where to obtain an abortion, what requirements are necessary to receive an abortion and information about insurance coverage for abortion. The DeGette amendment was defeated by a vote of 17-32.
• Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) offered an amendment to allow PPACA to override state conscience protections unless the state law is specific to abortion. Under the Schakowsky amendment state conscience protection laws related to other issues like the morning-after-pill could be preempted by PPACA. The Schakowsky amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-31.
• Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) offered an amendment to apply the conscience protections in H.R. 358 to abortion clinics and other abortion providers. If enacted, this amendment would have given abortion providers the right to sue government officials enforcing state and local laws regarding abortion, and would have a chilling effect on enforcement of pro-life laws. The Engel amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-31.
• Representative Anthony Weiner attempted to offer two amendments related to the constitutional authority statement accompanying the “Protect Life Act.” Both amendments were ruled nongermane.
Rep. Weiner, however, did win through his histrionics the unofficial award for the most boisterous opponent of the bill, exceeding the vituperation even of several of his radically pro-abortion female colleagues.
Much appreciated is the exemplary leadership of committee chair Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania (Lancaster area), who somehow managed to conduct the hearings with respect and dignity.

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