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Amends. could mandate abortion coverage

WASHINGTON (BP)–U.S. Senate votes on two health-care reform amendments Dec. 3 could result in private insurance plans being required to provide abortion coverage.

Senators approved, in a 61-39 roll call vote, an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D.-Md., that would empower a federal agency to include abortion as “preventive care.” If the Health Resources and Services Administration designates the procedure as “preventive care,” private plans would have to cover abortions, according to pro-life organizations.

An amendment by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R.-Alaska, that would have barred abortion from being classified as “preventive care” failed on a 59-41 vote.

While those developments combined to provide a setback for pro-lifers, they did receive welcome news the day before. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the most solid pro-life Democrat in the chamber, said Dec. 2 he would sponsor an amendment to bar federal funds in the health-care bill from paying for abortions. If abortion-funding language is not removed from the Senate bill, he will vote to stop the legislation, Nelson said, according to The Omaha World-Herald.

The Senate health-care bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, allows federal funds for abortions in a government-managed program and for subsidies of the procedures in private plans.

Mikulski’s amendment requires private plans and insurers to cover “preventive care” services as determined by HRSA. The proposal does not require abortion coverage by private plans, but it also does not exclude it from coverage.

“Abortion is not ‘preventive care,'” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, in a written release after the votes. “In this amendment, Sen. Mikulski apparently intends to expand abortion services under the guise of mandated preventive care. This deceptive tactic underscores the need for an amendment that explicitly prohibits the government from mandating that private insurance companies cover abortion under the guise of ‘preventive care.'”

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said in a written statement, “[T]here is no doubt that Sen. Mikulski’s amendment opens the floodgates to massive public underwriting of abortion, a position Planned Parenthood has always favored. With the adoption of [pro-life] amendment language in the Senate version of the bill, it’s now very clear that taxpayers will be forced to pay for abortions.”

Planned Parenthood is the country’s No. 1 abortion provider. Its affiliates performed more than 305,000 abortions in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

The House of Representatives approved its version of health-care reform Nov. 7 with an amendment prohibiting government coverage of abortions in the “public option” and barring federal subsidies for lower-income people in private insurance plans that cover abortions. Sixty-four Democrats joined 176 Republicans in voting 240-194 for the pro-life amendment by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa.

In the Dec. 3 vote on Mikulski’s amendment, three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, and David Vitter of Louisiana — joined 56 Democrats and two independents in support. Democrats Nelson and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin voted with 37 Republicans against the amendment.

On Murkowski’s proposal, Nelson was the lone Democrat to join all 40 GOP members in favor.
Submitted by the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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