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Nancy Pelosi: Women's Rights Face Greatest Threat 'In Our Lifetime'

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WASHINGTON -- Women's reproductive rights are being seriously threatened by the Republican Party, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said she is worried that many women are complacent about the possibility that they will lose access to abortions.

"They're advancing extreme legislation," Pelosi said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "It's dangerous to women's health, disrespects the judgment of American women -- I don't know if they even gave that a thought -- and it's the most comprehensive and radical assault on women's health in our lifetime. It's that bad."

There are three pieces of legislation that Republicans are currently trying to advance to limit abortion access. Arguably the most high-profile of those is H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). Current law already bars federal money from being used to directly pay for abortions, but H.R. 3 would also deny tax credits and benefits to employers who offer health insurance to their staff if that coverage includes abortion access.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced H.R. 217, which would deny federal family-planning funds under Title X to groups that offer abortion access -- a measure that would devastate groups like Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), H.R. 358, would allow hospitals to turn away women who need to terminate a pregnancy in order to save their own lives. Federal law currently requires hospitals receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding to provide emergency care to all individuals, regardless of the patient's ability to pay. If the facility can't provide the necessary care, it must transfer the patient to someone who can. Under Pitts' bill, hospitals would not have to perform abortions or even transfer the pregnant woman.

Pelosi said Pence's bill could come up for a vote in the House as early as next week. While it's likely that Republicans, who are now in the majority, will have enough support to pass the three measures, she said there might be some Tea Party-affiliated members who will realize that abortion access is different than access to family planning and contraception.

"We have to make this issue too hot to handle," said Pelosi, adding, "I would like to make the fight in the House and see where some of these Republicans are -- maybe we could win it on Title X. I can't believe that everybody who is anti a woman's right to choose is anti-birth control and contraception and family planning. But we don't know that, and we don't have any idea -- or I don't, anyway -- where the Tea Party people come down in all of this."

The minority leader said educating the public about the proposed legislation is important, "because win or lose in a given day, they'll be back, because this is their cash political cow for certain aspects of their constituency. So I think what we have to assume is they'll pass whatever they want in the House. We have to make it easier for the Senate to reject all of this because we know how masterful Republicans are at misrepresenting."

Both Pelosi and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, stressed that they believe H.R. 3 amounted to a tax increase on women and small businesses, given that a large majority of employer-based plans currently offer some coverage for abortions.

"We've been hearing from many businesses who say, we are struggling right now to provide insurance policies for our employees," DeGette said. "The last thing we need is to have our tax benefits taken away because it's a tax increase and it's going to cost us more."

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) rejected that argument in an interview with The Huffington Post at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. King said that businesses should just offer health care without abortion, and cost increases won't be an issue.

"They save premiums, and they can deduct them," he said. "So I would say no, that's a specious argument from my view. Maybe they [Democrats] have got some more detailed way to make that argument. Here's something I have discovered around this town: Human beings have an infinite capacity to self-rationalize. That's what the Democrats are doing. If that's the best argument that they have, the next thing they'll do is just start calling names."

King argued that the Pence bill wasn't a distraction from the GOP focus on spending and the economy. "It is an economic and a moral issue, so anytime you can kill two birds with one stone, we ought to do that," he said. "And if we can kill the whole flock with one rock, we ought to do that."