The Decline of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 29 2014 2:39 PM

The Decline of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"

The House of Representatives passed its latest limitation on abortion funding on Tuesday afternoon. There was no ticker-tape parade. A few members of the GOP majority ran from the vote—which succeeded, as they knew it would—to a better-covered press conference with the victims of Obamacare price hikes. Sure, the bill was promoted at last week's March for Life, but this was the sort of "news dump" treatment that often bugs social conservatives. They stuff envelopes and make calls for the party then watch as their priorities moulder while economic policies get fast votes.

But the vote was revealing. First, as Molly Redden noticed, this year's version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act avoided the language of the initial 2011 version. It no longer spent time defining which sort of rapes might be subject to the restrictions. As a tool for shooing media attention away, it worked—the 2011 Mother Jones scoop about the "forcible rape" language has 74,000 Facebook shares, and Redden's 2014 story has about 1,400.

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Second, the overall "aye" vote had shrunk from 2011's, from 251 to 227. In 2011 only six people missed the vote and 175 voted no. In 2014 15 people missed it and 188 voted no. In 2011 every Republican voted "aye." In 2014 Rep. Richard Hanna voted "no" and Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, a Senate candidate this year, voted present. Hanna explained:

The legislation includes miscellaneous other abortion-related provisions, including disallowing multi-state qualified health plans offered in an exchange from providing abortion coverage, as well as a new requirement that health plans which provide abortion coverage “prominently” display that information in marketing or advertising materials, comparison tools and benefit summaries. 
I have been a consistent supporter of women’s rights and healthcare organizations in upstate New York that aid women, especially those most vulnerable in our community. While I personally oppose abortion, individuals should be free to make that very difficult and personal decision without heavy-handed government involvement. 

Hanna comes from a swing district that came within fewer than 1,000 votes of supporting Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012. So what happened to shrink the 16 Democratic ayes? Nine of them came from members—Dale Kildee, Mark Critz, Jerry Costello, Jason Altmire, Tim Holden, Heath Shuler, Dan Boren, Mike Ross—who retired or lost in 2012.* One of them came from Joe Donnelly, who's now a U.S. senator. Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, one of the few pro-life Dems from a safe seat, changed from a "yes" to a "no." (I've asked why.) And two of the "aye" votes this time around came from Democrats—Jim Matheson, Mike McIntyre—retiring this year.

*Correction, Jan. 29, 2014: This post originally misspelled Jason Altmire's last name.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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