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House Republicans Kick Off 2014 With Renewed Focus On Abortion, Birth Control

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As the Senate takes up a measure to extend unemployment insurance, Republicans in the House of Representatives are looking to make 2014 another banner year for anti-abortion laws.

A panel of 12 men on the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bill Thursday that would deny tax subsidies to women and small businesses who purchase health insurance plans that include abortion coverage. The bill only makes an exception for rape and incest victims and women who would die without abortion care, which opponents say could prompt the IRS to audit any woman who claims one of these exceptions.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has also promised to fight for a rider in the appropriations package Congress is expected to pass next week that would allow employers to refuse to cover contraception in their health insurance plans for moral reasons. And the Republican National Committee has announced it plans to delay its annual winter meeting this year so that members can attend the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C.

"I'm not a psychologist, but we're dealing with behavior that, to me, appears obsessive," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told HuffPost in an interview. "The jury is in from the rest of country as well -- they want Congress to legislate on issues that are priorities for all Americans. But Republicans don't hear it, because it's an obsessive-compulsive behavior, their focus on rolling back women's rights. They can't stop themselves."

The bill the House is hearing on Thursday, called the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, would severely limit women's ability to buy insurance plans that cover abortion in the Obamacare exchanges, even though the law already contains a provision separating public funds from the private premiums people would pay for abortion coverage. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said when he introduced the bill last May that the legislation is intended to make it more difficult for women to access abortion care.

"President Obama has said he wants abortion to be rare," Smith said. "To Mr. Obama I say, 'Here is a bill for you.'"

Before Obamacare went into effect, more than 80 percent of private insurance plans in the United States covered abortion as if it were any other medical procedure. But banning the insurance coverage of abortion has recently become popular among state legislatures as a way to prevent women for being able to pay for the procedure.

"Up until recently, the private insurance market has seen abortion coverage as routine and non-controversial, and now we have Congress and politicians reaching into the private sector to try and get rid of abortion using this approach," said Susan Wood, associate professor of health policy at George Washington University.

Elsewhere, Ryan said in a radio interview last month that Republicans plan to push for a "conscience clause" in the upcoming omnibus spending bill, which would allow employers to opt out of covering their employees' contraception. "I’m fighting for a conscience clause rider on appropriations because I’m very worried about religious freedom," he said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told Fox News this week that abortion is currently one of the key sticking points in discussions over the omnibus bill. Ryan's and Mikulski's offices did not respond to requests for further comment.

Smith's bill faces slim chances in Congress, because the Democratic-controlled Senate would not likely take it up even if the House passed it. But the scheduled House hearing, along with Ryan's anti-contraception clause and the RNC's March for Life announcement, provide a sneak preview of the GOP's priorities for the coming year.

The House Pro-Choice Caucus, chaired by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), is gearing up for the upcoming battles.

“Here we go again," DeGette said Wednesday. "Republicans appear intent on continuing their extreme anti-choice agenda. Instead of constantly trying to interfere with a woman’s personal medical decisions, Republicans should be focusing their efforts -– and our precious time –- on issues that will get Americans back to work and strengthen our economy.”

“After waging an all-out assault on women’s health in state capitols across the country, Washington Republicans are again planning to force their anti-choice views on American women at the federal level,” Slaughter added. “Americans want to see Congress create jobs and fix our crumbling infrastructure, not launch more anti-woman crusades."

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