Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pennsylvania, sponsored the Protect Life Act, which would bar federal subsidies for health plans that provide abortion services.

Story highlights

Bill passes with overwhelming Republican support

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi condemns measure

Amendment would bar funding for health plans providing abortion services

Senate unlikely to take up measure; Obama promises veto

Washington CNN  — 

The U.S. House passed a bill Thursday that would amend the health care law to bar federal funding for health plans that provide abortion services.

The vote was 251 in favor and 170 against.

The bill, the Protect Life Act, was sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts and gathered overwhelming Republican support. Only two Republicans voted against it, along with all but 15 Democrats.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi condemned the bill during earlier debate, arguing that if it passed, “women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene.”

Democrats opposed to the bill charged that the GOP majority was ignoring the nation’s top priority and instead spending time on a bitterly divisive issue.

“Instead of focusing on jobs, Republicans are continuing to wage their war on women,” California Democrat Barbara Lee said on the House floor.

But GOP leaders emphasized the House spent the bulk of the week on proposals like the three free trade agreements that passed Wednesday aimed at boosting job creation. They explained Thursday’s vote was simply following through on a campaign promise that House Republicans made when they outlined their agenda in the run-up to the 2010 elections.

“We’ve done four or five solid job-creation bills this week and this bill was part of our Pledge to America. We are keeping our word to the American people, and we are going to do it,” House Speaker John Boehner said.

Supporters of the measure argued that the health care law contains a loophole that allows those receiving federal subsidies to use the money to enroll in health care plans that allow abortion services.

Abortion rights advocates maintain the bill is unnecessary because existing laws already bar any taxpayer money from underwriting abortion procedures. During the health care debate, President Barack Obama signed an executive order stating no federal funds could be used in the new health care exchanges created in the law.

Pro-abortion-rights groups like Planned Parenthood also maintain the bill adds a new restriction. Currently, hospitals that receive federal funds but don’t have facilities to treat women who may need emergency abortion services are directed to transfer those patients to a health care facility that can treat them. The Pitts bill removes that requirement.

A day after the House passed the three trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea with sizable bipartisan votes, debate in the House chamber on the abortion bill Thursday was heated and at times became personal.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, who revealed last year that she suffered a miscarriage and required a procedure to end her pregnancy, accused Republicans of being “absolutely misogynist” for bringing up the bill.

But Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, responded, “The misogyny comes from those who promote the killing of unborn babies.”

Foxx said the bill was not about taking away any existing rights, but restricting the use of federal money. She cited opinion polls showing that more than three-quarters of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, disputed Democrats who repeatedly argued that Obama’s 2010 executive order made it clear women would have to use private funds to pay for any abortion services.

“It is flawed because executive orders can disappear as quickly as they are issued. But the Protect Life Act will create a solid framework that will safeguard taxpayer dollars,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The Senate is not expected to take up the bill and the White House issued a veto threat on the Protect Life Act on Wednesday.