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H.R. 3, Wide-Sweeping Anti-Abortion Bill, Facing House Vote (UPDATED)

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WASHINGTON - A closer look at a House bill marketed to the public as a "common-sense" ban on taxpayer-funded abortions reveals an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to restrict insurance coverage for and reduce access to abortion.

H.R. 3, also known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act," would go beyond making the Hyde Amendment, which has already banned federally-funded abortions for the past 30 years, a permanent federal law. The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would also enact strict procedural requirements for private insurance companies that cover abortions and deny tax credits to small businesses that purchase health insurance plans offering abortion coverage. Eight-seven percent of private insurance plans currently include such coverage.

Further, H.R. 3 would eliminate privately funded insurance coverage for abortion in the state-based exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. The policy team at NARAL Pro-Choice America estimates that 13.5 million women who receive health coverage through Medicaid and other government-sponsored programs would permanently lose access to abortion coverage if the measure, facing a floor vote Wednesday, passes.

Some of the more extreme ramifications of the bill, which have attracted a great deal of negative media attention since its introduction in January, include a provision that could subject victims of rape and incest to abortion audits by the IRS. Mother Jones reported in March that H.R. 3 could turn IRS agents into "abortion cops" tasked with determining whether a woman used any kind of tax benefit to pay for a procedure not precipitated by rape or incest.

Marcus Owens, a former longtime IRS official, told Mother Jones that if a woman received a tax credit for medical costs related to abortion, "on audit [she] would have to demonstrate or prove, ideally by contemporaneous written documentation, that it was incest, or rape, or [her] life was in danger. It would be fairly intrusive for the woman."

H.R. 3 has achieved further notoriety through its attempt to narrow the definition of "rape" as it relates to abortion. Lawmakers pulled language from the original measure that allowed federal funding for abortions only in the case of "forcible rape" after drawing widespread public criticism, but Mother Jones reported on Tuesday that House Republicans are using a backdoor legislative maneuver to ensure the bill achieves the same effect.

The bill's sponsors, co-sponsors and supporters have remained mum on H.R. 3's more controversial aspects. When asked about the abortion audits and "forcible rape" exception, Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel said only, “The American people overwhelmingly oppose using their tax dollars to pay for abortions," and referred any questions about details to Chris Smith's office.

But Smith's office did not return any calls for comment about the bill in general or the audit issue, nor did co-sponsors Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), or Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). The socially conservative Family Research Council, which has launched radio ads in six Congressional districts pushing the legislation, also ignored multiple calls for comment, as did the National Right To Life committee.

"It's an easy line to throw out right? 'No taxpayer funding for abortion.' But clearly that isn't what this is about," said Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's about preventing women from accessing abortion, a constitutionally protected right and a legal medical procedure."

Donna Crane, the policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the radio silence surrounding the bill is a smart political tactic, considering it already has enough support in the House to easily pass.

"I wouldn't talk about this bill either if I had written it," Crane said. "I think that they have the votes to pass this bill, and they know it, but it's not popular and it has a lot of liabilities, and they know that, too."

"That statement about 'no taxpayer funding' is a complete nonsequitur," she added. "Public funding sadly is not available for women today for abortion care, period. No piece of legislation could make it more banned than it already is."

The bill has 227 co-sponsors and is expected to pass easily in the House on Wednesday, but President Barack Obama would not likely sign it into law if it passed in the Senate.

“The administration strongly opposes H.R. 3 because it: intrudes on women's reproductive freedom and access to health care; increases the tax burden on many Americans; unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that consumers have today; and restricts the District of Columbia’s use of local funds, which undermines home rule,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

"If the president is presented with H.R. 3, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. EST): H.R. 3 passed the House 251-175.

“Members of Congress who supported this egregious assault on women will hear from outraged Americans through phone calls, protests, petitions, and most importantly, at the ballot box in 2012,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “As this legislation moves to the Senate, we also will mobilize our members to urge their senators to stop this bill in its tracks.”

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