Supporters of the bill say those incentives essentially constitute federal spending on abortion.
"We want to live up to our commitment to make sure that there is no government funding of abortion," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. "And the provision that you speak to does have some connect with a government's support and funding of abortion."
That has House and Senate Democrats up in arms.
Republicans, says Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) are trying to limit "private choices by private individuals and businesses in the private insurance market." By their logic, he said, "the tax exemption for the Catholic church is the establishment of religion and ought to be forbidden by law."
Ultimately, the impact of tax like the one in the Republican legislation would likely be to phase out abortion coverage in the private insurance market. This would upend the long-standing bipartisan consensus, which does not enshrine the idea that the government should exert pressure on private entities to deny medical services they don't like. And -- speaking of bipartisan consensus -- it would run directly counter to the politically expedient conclusion by both parties that people should be able to keep the health care they already have.
"The Republicans in the House are proposing tax hikes because they don't like a health plan a private-sector business chooses," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). "What they want to do is essentially make abortion unavailable."
She sees the Senate as a backstop to preventing these measures from becoming law.
"I think we have 41 votes to stop it," Boxer said. "We have to be on our guard that these provisions are not slipped into a must-pass bill."
GOP allies in the business community are silent on the idea. The Chamber of Commerce declined a request for comment, despite the fact that the legislation would impact nearly all of their members.
But Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) thinks the curious timing suggests this is all about the health care law -- that prior to its passage, the same tax incentives existed, and yet this issue wasn't on the GOP agenda.
"Before the health care reform, when your company bought health insurance for you and it was not considered income, and therefore you weren't taxed on it, and it did cover all reproductive services, you could make the exact same argument. So this is no change, right?" Franken asked rhetorically, before joking, "You don't have to agree with me, you're a journalist, but I think my logic is impeccable."