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Pro-Lifers Win on Abortion Issue -- House Expected to Pass Health Care Reform Today

November 7, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The House Rules Committee met from 2 p.m. until 1 in the morning on Friday to strike a deal on the health care debate that will take place in the House today. Though the health care bill is 2,000 pages long and overhaul’s one-sixth of the nation’s economy, the committee’s epic session revolved around just one thing: abortion.

The Democrats’ biggest threat to passing their health care bill comes from one of their own. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak [D, MI-1] says he has commitments from about 40 other Democrats to vote against the bill unless it’s language restricting the use of federal funds for abortions is amended and strengthened. With every single Republican expected to vote against the bill, Stupak’s pro-life bloc holds enough leverage to kill the bill. They have been threatening to vote against the “rule” governing the floor debate, effectively blocking the debate from beginning, if they are not allowed a floor vote on their amendment.

In the beginning of the day on Friday, the Rules Committee, which is basically an extension of the Democratic leadership, had several options on the table yesterday for resolving the abortion problem. But when the most promising compromise language on the issue was withdrawn by its sponsor, Rep. Brad Ellsworth [D, IN-8], they were left with only three options — add Stupak’s abortion amendment to the bill, call his bluff on voting down the “rule,” or let him have a floor vote on his amendment.

In the end, the leadership decided to give him a floor vote on his amendment. They hope that whether or not the amendment passes, the Democratic caucus will come together in the end to vote in favor of the bill on final passage. In other words, if the amendment fails, the fact that the leadership allowed it to happen might be enough to win votes from some of the 40 pro-life Democrats. And if it is adopted, pro-choice Democrats who oppose the amendment will likely still vote for the bill so as to not stand in the way of health care reform. (For a more detailed report on how the Rules Committee came to allow a vote on Stupak’s amendment, see Ryan Grim’s reporting.)

Senior Democrats believe the deal to allow a vote on the abortion amendment secure the votes needed to pass the health care bill. “You don’t go to the floor unless you’re there — and we’re there,” Rep. John Larson [D, CT-1] told the L.A. Times.

The Stupak Abortion Amendment

The amendment, which you can download and read in full here, would do three things.

First, it would codify the Hyde Amendment provisions in the bill so that the ban on federal funds being used for abortions besides those resulting from rape or incest, or in cases where the mother’s life is endangered would remain intact regardless of Hyde being reauthorized. As it’s currently written, the bill’s restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion coverage would end if the Hyde Amendment, which has been reauthorized by Congress on an annual basis since 1976, is not reauthorized.

Secondly, it would not allow individuals purchasing insurance at least in part with federal affordability credits to buy a plan that covers abortions. The bill as currently written would allow individuals to use affordability credits to buy insurance that includes abortion coverage, but it requires any such plan to segregate the credits from individual premium payments and ensure that only the premium payments are used to fund the abortion services portion of the plan.

Affordability credits are available under the bill to people who don’t get insurance from work and earn between 150% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level. The Stupak amendment would bar all people in this income bracket from purchasing insurance that covers elective abortions unless they can afford to pay for a separate abortion coverage plan on their own. People earning below 150% of FPL would already be ineligible for abortion coverage because they will be on Medicaid, which does not cover abortions under Hyde. There are no concrete numbers for how many people would be denied an abortion-coverage option under the amendment, but it would likely be at least 20 million.

Thirdly, the Stupak amendment would dictate that the government-run public option does not provide abortion coverage. The bill currently leaves the decision of abortion coverage in the public option up to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Allowing the public option to cover abortions would not violate the Hyde Amendment because the public option is not government funded; will be entirely financed by individual premiums, just like the private plans.

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee has called today’s vote on the Stupak amendment the most important abortion vote in Congress since Roe.

Planned Parenthood says the amendment would be a discriminatory abortion ban. “This amendment would violate the spirit of health care reform, which is meant to guarantee quality, affordable health care coverage for all, by creating a two-tiered system that would punish women, particularly those with low and modest incomes,” said Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood.

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