WASHINGTON (AP) – A House committee gave abortion opponents a victory Wednesday, voting to making it easier for hospitals, health insurers and others to refuse to provide or cover abortions.

The Republican-run House Appropriations Committee approved the provision by voice vote after abortion-rights lawmakers, led by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., concluded they lacked the votes to block the measure. The language would make it harder for government officials to take action against health care providers or insurers who do not provide abortions.

“This is an issue of conscience,” said Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., a doctor who sponsored the language.

His amendment was added to a bill providing $142.5 billion next year for health, education and labor programs, and the committee approved that overall bill by voice vote, sending it to the full House.

Its fate in the Senate is unclear. That chamber has long been more inclined toward abortion rights than the House.

Weldon said his provision was simply a refinement of decades-old restrictions against federal aid for most abortions. But abortion-rights advocates said the language represented a major change in current policy.

Lowey told reporters after the vote that the measure would effectively place a “gag rule” on doctors and health care providers. Some of them, in exchange for receiving federal funds, are required to at least tell pregnant women who did not wish to have a child that abortion is among their options. That requirement would be eliminated by the Weldon language.

The provision “would allow health insurers to ignore laws about patient information and gag rules because they want to cut costs or benefits, or for no reason at all,” Lowey said.

Weldon said his amendment would make it harder for governments to sue insurance companies that refuse to cover abortions. It also would make it more difficult for local governments to block a religious hospital chain from acquiring a hospital that has been providing abortions but would no longer do so, he said.

The provision would prohibit federal agencies, or state and local governments, from receiving any of the bill’s funds if they take action against any health care provider, hospital, health insurer or managed care organization because the provider does not cover, provide or make references for abortions.

Weldon told reporters his provision was supported by the White House.

AP-ES-07-14-04 1637EDT

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