The House of Representatives held a hearing Thursday morning on a Republican-sponsored bill that would effectively raise taxes on women and small businesses who buy private health insurance plans that cover abortion.
The Affordable Care Act helps people afford private insurance plans by providing tax deductions and subsidies for people who purchase their plans through the state-based insurance exchanges. The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would eliminate those tax benefits for small businesses that want to provide their female employees with abortion coverage.
"Let's call this legislation exactly what it is: a tax increase on individuals, families or small employers who make a particular health care choice that some of my colleagues don't like," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). "The overall impact of this bill is clear: It will discourage most insurers from including coverage for abortion services in health insurance plans, which will effectively eliminate coverage that families across America now have and now pay for with their own money."
More than 80 percent of private insurance plans currently cover abortion as a routine medical procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.
"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," Susan Wood, associate professor of health policy at George Washington University and the Democrats' sole witness at Thursday's hearing, told HuffPost.
Democrats also noted that the bill's narrow exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother could cause a situation in which a woman had to prove to the IRS that she was raped or that she would have died without an abortion in order to get the procedure covered by her insurance.
Richard Doerflinger, one of the Republican witnesses from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said abortion coverage should not be included in health insurance plans because "abortion is not basic health care," and that the government is within its legal rights to treat it differently from other kinds of health care.
Republicans also argued that the public strongly supports prohibiting federal funds from subsidizing abortion care, and they brought a witness who said that more poor women actually oppose abortion rights. "Studies show that there is this disapproval -- particularly among poor women -- of abortion, and a desire that it not be normalized or encouraged," said Helen Alvaré, a law professor at George Mason University.
While the bill appears to be about the issue of taxpayer funding for a controversial medical procedure, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) acknowledged that its intention is to make it harder for women to afford abortions. "It's important for this committee to take the lead on legislation to further limit the number of abortions performed in this country," he said.
The legislation has no chance of moving forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate.