WASHINGTON, D.C., October 13, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The House of Representatives passed a measure Thursday evening in a 251-172 vote to amend the federal health care bill to include protections against federal tax funding of abortion, as well as strengthened conscience rights for health care providers.

The House cast the vote to pass the bill after voting in favor of a closed rule earlier in the day. The rule for the Protect Life Act, H.R. 358, had passed 248-173 nearly along party lines.

During much of the floor debate, Republicans emphasized the need to stop a massive influx of tax funding of abortion under the new health care reform legislation, while Democrats dismissed the bill as “extreme” and “cruel” and criticized Republicans for not focusing on job creation instead.

“This bill at its core is an attack on women, especially poor women,” said Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH).

On Thursday morning, former House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed the conscience provisions in the bill would mean “that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene,” echoing the talking points of Planned Parenthood, and other abortion lobbies.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), however, one of the bill’s sponsors, insisted that the bill simply represented “the original Stupak amendment.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), speaking in favor of the amendment, said that the fact that federally-funded insurance pools set up under the new law nearly covered abortions “demonstrates the vulnerability that the executive order has and the need for clarity.” The funding for abortion in state-level high-risk insurance pools was only stopped after the National Right to Life Committee unveiled the scandal in July 2010.

The bill is not expected to even receive a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and also faces a veto threat from President Obama. In a statement yesterday, Obama said that he “strongly opposes” the bill because it “intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care,” claiming the health care bill already preserves federal policy against tax funding for abortion.

“H.R. 358 goes well beyond the safeguards found in current law and reinforced in the President’s Executive Order by restricting women’s private insurance choices,” said the White House in a statement Wednesday. “If the President is presented with H.R. 358, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

Pro-life leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, contend that the Protect Life Act is critical for preserving the status quo on abortion and conscience rights in the face of a health reform that promises to drastically alter the landscape of the abortion battle in America.

The measure would amend President Obama’s Affordable Care Act to reflect the Hyde amendment by prohibiting taxpayer dollars from funding any health plan that includes coverage of elective abortions. The measure retains Hyde’s exception for abortions performed due to the child’s conception in rape or incest or to save the mother’s life.

The bill also makes clear that no health insurance carrier may be forced to provide coverage of abortion in any of its health plans, and strengthens the conscience rights of health care workers and institutions to reject abortion training, procedures, or referrals.