Abortion-rights advocates are trying to emphasize that a compromise that they support would not involve using public money for elective abortions. Rather, plans offered as part of an insurance exchange would have to use private money collected from consumers to pay for the procedure.
But anti-abortion advocates dismiss such distinctions between private and public money as akin to accounting gimmicks. The successful amendment supported by anti-abortion forces and authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) bars the used of federal funds to pay for an abortion or cover any part of the costs of any plan that includes coverage of abortion, unless pregnancy is result of rape or incest, or the life of the mother is endangered.
However, under the plan approved by the House, people could still buy supplemental policies that cover abortion. Also, people who are not receiving public subsidies could buy insurance plans that cover abortion.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said that anti-abortion advocates will be keeping pressure on lawmakers who voted for the Stupak amendment last weekend to continue to do so in any conference committee action. The conference vote will be of top importance when the group compiles its ratings of lawmakers standing on the abortion issue, Johnson said. Such ratings are often cited by candidates and their opponents in political races.
In the Senate, Johnson said his group will be working with Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah) who offered amendments to tighten abortion-funding restrictions in the Finance and HELP committees. Johnson declined to name Democrats whom his group was working with but noted that Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) voted for abortion restrictions in committee. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has also indicated he supports the Stupak amendment.
One political observer said abortion-rights groups may be at a disadvantage in the fight because their supporters are unlikely to desert the Democratic Party even if party leaders make the pragmatic decision to placate the other side to get health care bill through.
Democrats may be banking on what they perceive is that women have no other place to go, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.