On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 251 to 170 to pass the Protect Life Act, which supporters say would prevent federal money from being used to provide abortions and which opponents say restricts women's reproductive health services in an unprecedented and dangerous way.
Federal law already prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. But H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act, which was sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Representative Joe Pitts, would also prohibit women from using their own money to purchase private health insurance that would cover the procedure if it were medically necessary. The bill would also allow hospitals to refuse, on moral grounds, to treat a woman who was seeking an abortion, even in emergency or life-threatening situations.
"Here we stand, on the 282nd day of this Congress, and the House majority has not yet passed a jobs plan. Instead, we have spent all day long, once again, attacking women's health with a bill that will never become law," Colorado Democratic Representative Diana DeGette said on the House Floor on Thursday. "Now, Madam Speaker, with only 20 legislative days left this year, the leadership of this body has somehow decided that we should spend the day advancing legislation that would severely compromise women's health."
The vote was largely along party lines, with all but two Republicans voting for it and all but 15 Democrats voting against it, CNN reported. The bill is not expected to go to the Senate, and President Obama said on Wednesday that he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk.
Republican representatives defended their decision to focus on the Protect Life Act, saying that they had already spent much of this week on job-creation related legislation like the free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that passed with support from both parties on Wednesday.
"We've done four or five solid job-creation bills this week and this bill [the Protect Life Act] was part of our Pledge to America." House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. "We are keeping our word to the American people, and we are going to do it."
Mississippi Republican Congressman Alan Nunnelee pointed out that the executive order President Obama signed during the health care debate wasn't enough to placate most anti-abortion activists, though he acknowledged that federal laws restricting the use of federal funds are already in place. "Even though President Obama signed an executive order to address abortion-funding concerns in the health care bill, an executive order is not law," he said on the House floor. "The Protect Life Act would strengthen longstanding federal policies on abortion, and more importantly it would codify the principles of the President's executive order."
Democrats focused on fact that the Protect Life Act could instead compromise the health of women across the country.
"When the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor, and health care providers do not have to intervene," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference. "It's just appalling. This is a health issue, and it falls right in there with a lot of other initiatives that they had coming up on the floor about clean air, clean water, mercury-you name it."
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