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Three years ago, House Republicans pushed a bill to permanently eliminate taxpayer funding for abortions. The proposed legislation included an exception for women who had been raped—but only if it the rape was “forcible.” That language—and later, off-color comments about abortion and rape by two GOP Senate candidates, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock—kicked off a national backlash against the Republican party. So this year, the House GOP is trying a new strategy: introducing almost the exact same bill to limit abortion rights, while hoping that cutting out controversial rape provisions will limit the political blowback.
To that end, the GOP-run House of Representatives will vote late Tuesday afternoon on the 2014 version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a bill that would permanently ensconce the Hyde Amendment—a temporary measure that has been around since the 1970s and bans federal funding for abortions—in federal law. The bill doesn’t just ban federal funding for abortions, though—it also promises to limit Americans’ ability to buy private-sector health insurance that covers abortion.
Like previous versions of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that passed the House in 2011 and 2012, this year’s measure has no chance of becoming law so long as Democrats hold the Senate and President Barack Obama occupies the White House. The bills, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), are designed to signal the Republican party’s priorities to its most hardcore supporters—and more broadly, to provide a taste of what the GOP would have to offer if it gained control of the Senate and the White House. (House Republican leaders have given this year’s version of the bill the number H.R. 7; the low number is a symbolic nod to its high priority.)
Previous versions of Smith’s bill have cost the party politically. The 2011 version launched the “forcible rape” furor. And this year’s bill, which Smith introduced last May, appeared again to raise questions about what counts as rape. An earlier version of the proposal would have required the IRS to verify that a woman claiming a medical expense deduction for abortion on her tax return was not committing fraud. Women may only claim these deductions if their abortions were the result of rape, incest, or life-threatening medical situations—leading anti-abortion activists to assail the bill’s sponsors for mandating IRS “rape audits.”
The bill the House will vote on Tuesday drops the “rape audits” provision. But Sharon Levin, the director of federal reproductive health policy for the National Women’s Law Center, says this is more of a face-saving measure than an improvement.
“They took out the provision that the public had been focused on to make this more palatable, politically,” she says. “The core of what this bill is about has not changed—making it as difficult as possible for women to get access to abortion.”