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Fight over abortion funding nears in push for health care

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives unveiled its 1,990-page health care bill Oct. 29 with funding for abortion intact, setting the stage for a battle with pro-life members of its own party.

A House floor vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962, may occur as soon as Nov. 5.

As expected, the massive legislation includes a “public health insurance option” managed by the federal government that would fund elective abortions and a federal subsidy program for private plans that cover abortion, pro-life organizations reported.

There are indications Democratic pro-lifers may have enough votes to block passage of the health care measure by defeating the rule governing consideration of the legislation. The House leadership is expected to try to bring the bill to the floor under a rule that would prevent a vote on a pro-life amendment that would bar federal funds from paying for abortions in both the public and private plans. If the procedural vote on the rule fails, the legislation will not be able to go to the floor for consideration.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., leading the Democratic pro-life effort to amend the bill, and Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) both have signaled they have enough votes to defeat the rule and block the health care proposal if their allies don’t change their minds. Speaking to CNSNews.com, Stupak has said there are about 40 Democrats who have agreed to vote with him, while DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day said Oct. 29 there are about 43 Democrats committed to joining Stupak.

Pro-lifers have little margin for error. There are 256 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House, with two vacancies to be filled Nov. 3 in special elections. If the vote takes place before the two vacancies are filled and if all 177 Republicans and 40 Democrats oppose the rule, it would fail 217-216.

“Anyone voting to forbid amendments to this bill is in effect voting to set up a federal government program that will directly fund abortion on demand, with federal funds,” said Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, in an Oct. 29 written release.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life (AUL), said in a written statement Oct. 29 the language in the legislation creates “a dramatic change from the status quo — currently no federal dollars are used to pay for elective abortions or plans that cover abortion…. Explicit language must be added to this health care bill to prevent unprecedented federal funding of abortion.”

Also on Oct. 29, Stupak said in a written statement he is disappointed the abortion-funding language from a previous House bill “has remained intact in H.R. 3962, mandating abortion services for the first time in our nation’s history. I will continue to work with leadership to find satisfactory language on this issue.”

Pro-lifers continued to refute contentions by supporters of the abortion-funding language that only private funds would be used for abortions under the “public option.”

“The public plan will be a federal agency program [under the Department of Health and Human Services], and all funds spent by the agency are federal funds,” Johnson said, citing an Oct. 9 memo from the Congressional Research Service that “confirmed that all funds spent by the bill’s public plan will be federal funds. Prominent Democrats who have claimed that the federal government could pay for abortion with ‘private’ funds have been engaged in a big snow job….”

A different health care reform bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee Sept. 30 also covers abortion. The panel voted 13-10 against an amendment that would have prohibited federal funds from paying for abortions in plans or subsidies established by the legislation. The full Senate has yet to take up the measure.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust.