WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. House of Representatives committee turned back another pro-life effort Friday to exclude abortion funding from health care reform legislation before approving the overall measure.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 31-27 against an amendment to prohibit federal funds from paying for an abortion or covering any part of a health plan that includes coverage of abortion. Later, the panel endorsed the bill, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, in a 31-28 vote.
The committee’s July 31 actions on health care reform came on the House’s final day before beginning a five-week recess. The Energy and Commerce Committee became the third House panel to approve health care reform legislation, as well as the third one to reject amendments to prevent mandated abortion coverage and to exclude federal subsidies for abortions.
The Energy and Commerce Committee had defeated in a 30-29 roll call the previous day an amendment by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., to bar abortion from being required as part of a basic health benefits package in government and private plans. Stupak and Pitts also offered the amendment to prevent federal money for abortions.
While the committee rejected pro-life efforts at amending the bill, it adopted in a 30-28 vote July 30 an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., that was portrayed as maintaining the current bans on federal funding of abortion. Pro-lifers described it as a “phony compromise,” however.
In a written statement to Baptist Press, Pitts said some committee members “voted against our amendment claiming that an earlier deal put forward by [Capps] was enough to prevent taxpayer funding.”
“The Capps amendment is a phony solution designed to give Democrats political cover and we will attempt to offer our amendment again when the legislation comes to the House floor,” Pitts said.
The amendment by Capps, a pro-choice advocate, would allow the “public health insurance option” — which would be paid for by the federal government — to fund elective abortions. It also would permit federal subsidies for private insurance plans that include elective abortion coverage, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
“The adoption of the pro-abortion Capps Amendment, and the rejection of the pro-life Stupak-Pitts amendment, underscores that H.R. 3200 would drastically change federal policy, channeling massive new federal subsidies to health plans that pay for abortion on demand, including a national plan that will be offered by the federal government,” NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson wrote on the organization’s website. “This is Condition Red for the pro-life movement.”
Stupak and Pitts were successful in achieving adoption of a conscience clause amendment to protect pro-life health care workers and institutions. The language, approved by a voice vote July 30, would prevent discrimination against any doctor, other medical professional, hospital, other health care facility or insurance plan that “does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
In the July 31 roll call on the Stupak-Pitts amendment, five Democrats — Stupak, plus Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Jim Matheson of Utah, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana and John Barrow of Georgia — joined 22 Republicans in support. Republican Rep. John Shimkus was the sole GOP member to oppose the amendment. Shimkus’ press secretary, Steven Tomaszewski, contacted BP to say the congressman’s vote was based only on parliamentary reasons and Shimkus “is and always has been pro-life.”
On committee approval of the overall bill, Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia joined Stupak, Matheson, Melancon and Barrow as Democrats, along with all the Republicans, in opposition.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life organizations have urged voters to contact their members of Congress regarding health care legislation during the recess, which ends Sept. 7. The ERLC has encouraged visits to district and state offices, as well as phone calls to senators’ and representatives’ Washington offices through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and emails to them by accessing www.erlc.com and clicking on “Take Action.”
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.