Maine’s two U.S. House members split Tuesday on a measure that would make it more difficult for women to get abortions.

The proposal, approved on a mostly party-line vote, seeks to make a prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion permanent and, for the first time, to stymie private insurance plans from offering coverage for abortions.

The bill, which needs Senate approval before it can become law, would bar people from using federal subsidies for the purchase of health insurance plans that cover abortion. It would also disqualify small businesses from receiving any health care tax credits if they choose a plan on a health exchange that covers abortions for employees.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, whose 1st District includes Portland and Southern Maine, said GOP lawmakers are trying “to restrict safe and legal abortion access for women” and “have told the millions of women who marched last weekend that they want to control their health care choices.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican whose 2nd District includes Lewiston-Auburn and Franklin and Oxford counties, has a different take on the proposed legislation.

“The congressman understands that this topic raises passionate discussion, on both sides of the issue,” his spokesman, Brendan Conley, said. “He agrees that all of us should extend compassion and support to every woman in need of care — and always offer help, never condemnation.” 


He added, “For nearly 40 years, majorities in Democratic- and Republican-controlled congresses have agreed that federal tax dollars should not be used to fund elective abortions. As a Franco-American Catholic, the congressman agrees.” 

What’s different this time around is that the prohibition first imposed in 1976 would be made permanent, though a future Congress could always change it. Its addition of restrictions on private insurance plans covering abortions is new.

Pingree said, “Abortion rights are protected by our Constitution and do not belong only to those who can afford them. Moreover, what precedent does it set for politicians to start telling patients what health care services won’t be covered by their health plans?” 

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said politicians in Washington “should not have the right to interfere in the health decisions of women” that ought to be made in private between women and their doctors.

He denounced it on the House floor as an “extreme and sweeping bill” that will put unprecedented limits on abortion coverage. “It is deeply troubling and must not become law,” McGovern said.

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., called the bill “devastating for all women.” She said it would most hurt low-income and immigrant women.


But many Republican members of Congress said it’s time to put in place the strict prohibition.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Fox, R-N.C., said the country has “lost 54 million children since 1973” and it must end. She said there is a consensus among taxpayers that federal money shouldn’t help anyone get an abortion.

“Millions of Americans are alive today” because of the so-called Hyde Amendment that has been in place since 1976, Fox said.

The only Bates College graduate in the House — U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. — said, “We now have a president who supports this legislation.”

This bill “is a celebration of the lives of those millions of Americans” who are alive because of the longstanding prohibition on use of federal funds for abortions, he said.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., said Americans want to replace abortion with empathy and compassion “and not fund the destruction of children.”

But U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the GOP measure amounts to a step back “to a dark and ugly time” when women had to seek out back-alley abortions.

The measure cuts off access to choice, she said, and is “a cynical attempt to use the federal government’s power of the purse” to eliminate choice for women who have a legal right to an abortion.

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