Abortion Compromise in House Tees Up Health Care Reform Vote

Posted November 7, 2009 at 12:23am

House Democratic leaders have broken through the abortion impasse holding up their sweeping health care overhaul, a development leadership aides said put Democrats on track to pass the measure on Saturday. The deal hands a major win to abortion-rights opponents by green-lighting an up-or-down vote on a proposal by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) to bar plans that offer abortions from new health insurance exchanges. The ban would extend to a public insurance option that House Democrats have included in their package. Leaders had tried to strike a compromise around language authored by Ellsworth that would have required the federal government to hire private contractors to handle money paying for abortions under the public plan. But that proposal failed to gain the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which many Democratic abortion-rights opponents were looking to for a go-ahead. The amendment will likely pass with support from Republicans, forcing the majority of Democrats, who support abortion rights, to swallow hard in voting for the package on final passage. Democrats on the House Rules Committee who favor abortion rights made their discomfort clear early Saturday morning as they debated allowing the amendment.“In my judgment, having had the experience of seeing the horror of women in back alleys and using coat hangers and all sorts of substances, I foresee for poor women in America a return to the dark ages,— Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said. “If this goes to the Senate and comes back, it’s going to be very difficult for the Speaker or anybody else to get me to vote for health care.—Stupak, in presenting his amendment, said it merely codifies current federal law banning federal funding of abortions and brings the reform bill in line with President Barack Obama’s pledge to follow suit. “On behalf of every American, I wish to be heard on the sanctity of life,— he said. “It is not the time to rewrite the policy on federal funding for abortion. So let’s keep current law.—Leaders have struggled for the past few days to unwind the abortion deadlock, the last major hang-up complicating their efforts to gather majority support for the health care package. One senior Democratic aide said abortion-rights proponents “are not happy at all— with the deal leaders struck but grudgingly realized it was the only way to move the bill forward. Late Friday, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the 190-member Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, left a negotiating session in the Speaker’s office and told a group of reporters that a ban on abortions through the public plan would be unacceptable. “If you say the public option cannot offer a legal medical procedure, what you are doing is greatly restricting a woman’s right to choose over current law,— she said. “The pro-choice caucus will not agree to any language, no matter how you do it, that further restricts a woman’s right to choose from current law.—How many votes it will cost leaders on final passage remains to be seen, but top aides expressed confidence that abortion-rights supporters would express their opposition to the amendment by voting against it and then line up behind the broader package.