Activists Gear Up for Fight

Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:54pm

Clarification Appended

Lately, Donna Crane hasn’t been making it home early. The policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America has been lobbying nonstop to ensure that the House does not slip anti-abortion language into its health care legislation, which the chamber is expected to vote on this weekend.

“We’re working a lot of late nights,— Crane said.

Lobbyists on both sides of the emotionally divisive issue have been feverishly rallying their grass-roots supporters this week to chime in on the debate on how restrictive the House bill should be regarding abortion.

The House bill says private health insurance plans may neither be required nor prohibited from covering abortion services. The proposed public health insurance option would be required to cover abortions that are covered by the Hyde amendment, such as in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. The secretary of Health and Human Services would have discretion over whether elective abortions are offered under the public option. However, all plans including the government plan would have to use private money from insurance premiums to pay for the abortions.

Several socially conservative Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, have balked at the legislation as written and want any insurance plan that receives public subsidies to be barred from covering abortions.

Abortion rights groups have responded that Stupak’s proposal would impose restrictions on abortion coverage that do not exist even in current law.

But anti-abortion groups have mobilized on Capitol Hill to stiffen the spines of 40 Democrats they say are backing Stupak’s plan. They want the Michigan Democrat to be able offer his proposal as an amendment when the bill is debated on the floor. That is likely to be rejected by the Rules Committee when it approves the parameters of the debate later this week.

As a result, the anti-abortion forces are now trying to persuade conservative Democrats to vote to defeat the rule on the health care legislation.

“We’re throwing everything we got at it,— said Charmaine Yoest, president of the Americans United for Life Action Committee. The group spent $454,619 on federal lobbying in the first three quarters of this year.

To rally anti-abortion supporters, Yoest’s group has placed an ad on CNN as well as on the Drudge Report.

Yoest and her team are also working with other socially conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council to encourage supporters to e-mail and visit lawmakers’ offices.

Conservative activists from around the country today are expected to participate in a Capitol Hill event sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called “House Calls on Health Care.—

Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America, said she knew of people coming from as far as Texas to attend the event.

“Abortion is a major driving force for many of our people,— she said.

To placate some of the moderate Democrats, Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said the panel would include a compromise in the bill proposed by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) that would allow any person to opt for a plan that refuses to cover abortions.

The Ellsworth amendment would bar federal funding for abortions.

However, that compromise did not please either side.

David Christensen, the director of Congressional affairs for the Family Research Council, called the Ellsworth plan “an accounting gimmick.—

Abortion rights advocates also reacted negatively. “Rep. Ellsworth’s language purportedly seeks to amend a carefully crafted and balanced compromise that should have put this issue to rest months ago,— said Laurie Rubiner, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s vice president for public policy.

Rubiner said that Planned Parenthood was “not wild— about the language regarding abortion in the bill.

She said the family planning group does not believe it is fair that abortion procedures could be paid for only from private funds when other procedures were covered. Nevertheless, Planned Parenthood has backed the legislation because it wants to see health care reform move forward.

Planned Parenthood, which has spent $386,824 on federal lobbying through September of this year, has generated 150 letters to the editor and 115,000 e-mails to Congress, according to Rubiner. And she said Planned Parenthood has been meeting with some moderate undecided Democrats that groups on both sides of the issue have been courting.

NARAL’S Crane would not say who her group has been targeting but noted, “We’re spending a lot of quality time with Members and their staffs.— NARAL has spent $80,000 on federal lobbying in 2009.

While abortion has been front and center, another hot-button issue, illegal immigration, has also muddled the health care debate in the House.

Advocates for preventing illegal immigrants from receiving health care subsidies have criticized the House bill for not including strict verification rules.

Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which advocates reducing illegal immigration, said that unlike the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee, the House measure does not outline verification procedures for all of the programs, such as Medicaid.

He warned that House Democrats “don’t want to make a liar of the president,— who promised in a speech to Congress that the health plan would not cover illegal immigrants.

However, an official with the National Council of La Raza, which advocates for Latinos, said the verification procedures could be cumbersome and preclude more than illegal immigrants from receiving health coverage.

“You don’t want to put roadblocks in the way of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants,— said Jennifer Ng’andu, deputy director of health policy project for La Raza.

She said that La Raza, in conjunction with civil rights groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had been running ads promoting health care. The group has also compiled short stories about the difficulties that many immigrants and Latinos have had in securing health care.

“Latinos, just like everyone else, want to see the health care bill passed,— she said.

Clarification: Nov. 5, 2009

The article was unclear about abortion language in the House’s health care bill. The House bill says private health insurance plans may neither be required nor prohibited from covering abortion services. The proposed public health insurance option would be required to cover abortions that are covered by the Hyde amendment, such as in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. The secretary of Health and Human Services would have discretion over whether elective abortions are offered under the public option.