Abortion Battle Looms in Health Care Debate

Posted July 14, 2009 at 2:38pm

At least 30 House Democrats and Republicans are vowing to oppose health care reform legislation unless it specifically excludes abortion funds.

Abortion foes say draft versions of the House health care bill allow for the possibility that the Health Benefits Advisory Committee will recommend that abortion services be included as part of a benefits package. Unless the bill has a clear exclusion, they say, abortion could be included in a government-subsidized health care plan.

House Democrats on Tuesday afternoon were unveiling their health care plan, with a goal of passing a measure before the chamber adjourns on July 31 for the August recess.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Values Action Team, on Tuesday hosted a press event with 11 Republicans concerned that the bill would allow publicly funded abortions and create a mandate that would force private insurers to cover abortion.

The House health care bill “will prevent and pre-empt state efforts, will mandate this service and require taxpayer subsidies,— said Pitts, who, like all attendees, pledged to vote against the bill unless it clarifies that taxpayer dollars will not go toward abortions.

One participant, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), blasted President Barack Obama for being “radical on the area of abortion— and warned that passage of the bill could mean that “new abortion clinics would have to be built all across America.—

Pitts said he will address the issue by offering two amendments — one relating to mandates, one relating to subsidies — during the Energy and Commerce markup. He said he has support from some Blue Dogs on the committee but doesn’t think he has the votes to pass his amendments. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) offered similar amendments during a Senate committee markup that were defeated.

The GOP concerns echo those of 19 Democrats who last month sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warning that she wouldn’t have their support on health care legislation if the bill doesn’t clarify that taxpayer dollars won’t be used for abortions.

“We cannot support any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion funding from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan,— the letter states.

That letter is signed by Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Bobby Bright (Ala.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Tim Holden (Pa.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Charlie Melancon (La.), John Murtha (Pa.), James Oberstar (Minn.), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

Pro-Life Caucus Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said he has talked to Democrats opposed to publicly funded abortions and discussed the idea of teaming up over the issue.

“Their letter, which they initiated, we just stood on the side and said thank you,— Smith said.

Pitts said he knows there are more than 19 Democrats with concerns over the abortion issue.

“They got that number in a very short period of time,— he said. “So with the other complications of the Blue Dogs pushing back … we think we have a chance.—

Other Republicans at Tuesday’s press event included Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), Congressional Pro-Life Women’s Caucus Chairwoman Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Reps. Paul Broun (Ga.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Phil Roe (Tenn.) and John Fleming (La.).