The House handed abortion-rights foes a major victory Saturday night, voting 240-194, with one voting present, to adopt Rep. Bart Stupaks (D-Mich.) amendment prohibiting abortion coverage under a new national insurance exchange.
Passage of the amendment appeared likely to secure final passage for the bill, despite outrage from many Democratic supporters of abortion rights.
Sixty-four Democrats and all but one Republican voted for the amendment; Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) voted present.
Stupak said his push for the amendment was intended to maintain existing law known as the Hyde Amendment, not to try to derail the health care bill.
Im not writing a new abortion policy, he said. It will have no impact on those individuals who have private insurance and in no way prohibits any individual from purchasing supplemental abortion coverage.
Stupak added that private insurance companies may still offer plans covering abortions, just not to anyone receiving a federal insurance subsidy.
Pro-abortion-rights Democrats pleaded with their colleagues to oppose the amendment, which they said goes too far since the bill already prevents the use of federal dollars for abortions.
Not one other legal medical procedure in this legislation is singled out for rationing, complained Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who had authored language in the bill prohibiting subsidies from paying directly for abortions but allowing plans to cover them.
Capps said the irony is that many people backing the amendment claim to object to government interference in health care.
Their goal really is to strip womens right to choose altogether, she said.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said it was simply outrageous to back the amendment, which she warned would hurt low-income women the most.
Were a democracy, not a theocracy, she said, alluding to the Roman Catholic Churchs influence on the debate. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops conditioned their support for the bill on the amendment.
Republicans joined Stupak en masse.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the issue was simple: If we truly want to see fewer abortions dont fund them! Millions of people are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, because funding was not there to effectuate their demise.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.