Opponents say the bill would make it difficult, if not impossible, for many women to obtain medical coverage that covers abortions — even if they pay for it with their own money.
"This is overkill plus, and the purpose of it escapes me," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a member of the committee. "We're debating an issue that is so inconsequential to the lives of most Americans. I will not support this. I'm annoyed that we're even taking time on the Ways and Means Committee to do something that's obviously very ideological and has nothing to do with the health care bill, and nothing really to do with taxes or getting people back to work."
By law, taxpayers can deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, a threshold that increases to 10 percent in 2013. They can also set side tax-free money in health savings accounts, and spend it on approved medical expenses. The Internal Revenue Service currently lists the cost of an abortion as an approved medical expense.
Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she is concerned the bill would cause insurance companies in state exchanges to drop abortion coverage, making it unavailable, even for women who pay their own premiums. She is also concerned the bill would put the IRS in the awkward position of determining whether women who get abortions were sexually assaulted, so it can decide whether the procedure is tax-deductible.
"It would be an alarming new responsibility for the IRS," Crane said.