House Republicans are taking a brief detour from talk of deficits and deregulation on Thursday to take up a bill aimed at restricting access to abortions, a matter critically important to the party's base.
The House is slated to vote on the Protect Life Act, which would amend the new healthcare law to prevent federal subsidies from being used to pay for any health insurance plan that covers abortion. The bill also offers legal protection for hospitals that refuse to perform abortions.
The measure is part of a continued effort to distance the federal government and its dollars from healthcare providers that perform the procedure. Its provisions are similar to legislation already passed by the House in May. The Senate blocked the bill and is expected to do the same to this legislation.
Advocates argue Republicans are trying to codify and expand on the long-standing policy known as the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal money in Medicaid and other government programs for abortion -- except in cases of rape, incest or a danger to the life of the woman.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the minority leader, called the legislation "savage" and a waste of time when Americans are more concerned about jobs.
"Every woman in America should be concerned with this assault on women's health," Pelosi said. "Another example of wasted opportunity."
White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer repeated the critique in a tweet: "Instead of jobs, the House GOP is spending time today on a divisive abortion bill. Still don't have a plan experts say will create jobs now."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) defended his party's decision to revisit the abortion issue at a time when Americans tell pollsters that jobs and the economy are their top concern. The abortion legislation was promised in the House GOP's Pledge to America, which outlined their priorities before last year's election.
"We've done four to five jobs bills this week," Boehner said. "We're keeping our word to the American people. We're going to do it."