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2 House S. Baptists remain ‘no’ on bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–Two Southern Baptist Democrats in their first full terms in the House of Representatives have affirmed their opposition to health-care legislation scheduled for a Sunday vote.

Reps. Bobby Bright of Alabama and Travis Childers of Mississippi made clear they intend to vote against the proposal. Both congressmen cited a failure to prohibit federal funding of abortion as one of the reasons for their opposition.

The Democratic leadership is working in tandem with President Obama in an effort to gain the votes needed to pass what will be, in essence, two bills: A measure approved by the Senate in December and a House proposal that provides “fixes” to the Senate version and can be approved by reconciliation. Under the rules of the reconciliation process, the Senate will need only a majority, 51 votes, instead of a super-majority, 60 votes, to pass the bill.

Bright and Childers are among five House Democrats who are known to be members of Southern Baptist churches. The others are Reps. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, Al Green of Texas and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

Staff for Davis, Green and Shuler did not respond to requests from Baptist Press seeking the representatives’ positions on the health-care legislation.

Davis and Shuler have been expected to vote against the bill.

The Hill, a congressional newspaper, moved Davis Friday from the “leaning no” or “likely no” column to “undecided” in its tally of the votes, saying the Tennessee congressman “has been avoiding requests for comment.”

The Hill kept Shuler in the “no” category, and the Huffington Post said late in the day Shuler was firmly in that category. “I have not waffled one instant. That’s coming from people who would like me to waffle,” he was quoted as saying.

Green is expected to vote in favor of the measure.

It appears all Republican members will oppose the bill.

In November, Bright, Childers, Davis and Shuler voted against the version approved by the House in a 220-215 roll call. Green voted for the bill.

Bright, Childers, Davis and Shuler also voted for a pro-life amendment to the bill that passed 240-194 and made possible passage of the overall legislation. Green opposed the amendment. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment — named after its sponsors, Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa. — barred federal funds from being used to pay for abortions and to subsidize abortion coverage.

The Senate, however, refused to include the Stupak-Pitts Amendment in its bill. Pro-life advocates say the version approved by senators could dramatically increase the number of abortions if it becomes law. It not only funds insurance plans that cover abortion, but it also appropriates $7 billion to the nation’s 1,200-plus community health centers without saying the money cannot be used for abortions, the groups say. Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, supports the bill and argued it would “significantly increase access to reproductive health care.”

In a Thursday written statement, Childers said he believes in health-care reform but still doesn’t think “we’ve gotten it right.” He said his review of the bill left him “deeply concerned about the legislation’s large price tag and the absence of sufficiently strong language to prohibit federal funding of abortion.”

The Mississippi congressman said in a Wednesday statement for Baptist Press, “From my first day in Congress, I vowed to protect the sanctity of life by refusing to support any legislation that allows taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. As someone with strong pro-life values, that is one of my guiding principles when it comes to how I stand on any piece of legislation. I have made it abundantly clear that I cannot support a health care bill that includes federal funding for abortion in any form.”

On March 2, Bright said he remained a “firm no” on the bill, a position reaffirmed by a staff member Wednesday.

“Any legislation passed must maintain and uphold current restrictions on abortions,” Bright said in his March 2 written statement. “I am pro-life, and believe that life begins at conception. For over 30 years, federal funding for abortion has been banned and those restrictions should remain in any health care reform legislation. Taxpayer dollars should not go towards performing a controversial procedure to which many deeply religious Americans are fundamentally opposed.”

Among other concerns, Bright said he does not believe the country can afford the proposal’s “massive cost.”

Bright urged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in a Tuesday letter to reconsider her effort to pass the health-care bill. He said he agrees with the concerns of many of his constituents and thinks Congress “should instead pursue targeted, incremental and bipartisan health care reform measures.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article. To read a Q&A on abortion and the health care bill, click here. Read National Right to Life’s summary of the bill at http://www.nrlc.org/AHC/NRLCToHouseOnHealthBill.pdf. House members can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or through House.gov, where their local office numbers can be found.