WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-lifers won a major victory Saturday night when an amendment that would prohibit the health care bill from covering or funding abortion passed, 240-194.
The amendment passed minutes before the health care bill itself (H.R. 3962) passed, 220-215.
The fact that the amendment even received a vote seemed improbable just 24 hours earlier, but Democratic leaders saw that without winning a block of roughly 40 pro-life members of their own party, the overall health care bill had little chance of passage. Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and the 40 members had been trying for weeks to get a floor vote on the amendment, which was narrowly defeated in committee. They threatened to try to prevent the bill from coming to the floor if their amendment wasn’t considered.
It was a tough pill to swallow for pro-choice House members, many of whom had assumed the Stupak amendment wouldn’t receive a vote because Democratic leaders — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi — opposed it.
The amendment, sponsored by Stupak, prohibits the government-run public option from covering elective abortions and also prevents federal subsidies — that is, subsidies given to lower-income people — from paying for insurance plans that cover elective abortion.
The amendment received the votes of 176 Republicans and 64 Democrats. Opposing it were 194 Democrats, including Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Tony Perkins, president of the pro-life Family Research Council, called the Nov. 7 vote a “pro-life milestone.”
“This is one of the most significant pro-life votes since Roe v. Wade,” Perkins said during a conference call following the vote. He said he still has reservations about the overall bill but is “very grateful” for the leadership of pro-life members of both parties.
Even so, Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life Committee legislative director, said “there is a long battle ahead.”
Johnson charged that the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders had “spent months concealing and misrepresenting provisions [of the legislation] that would directly fund abortions” and “we know that the White House and pr-abortion congressional Democratic leaders will keep trying to enact government funding of abortion….”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also lauded the House abortion amendment but said passage of the overall bill “brings us one step closer to government-subsidized and eventually government-run health care in America. Having lived under socialized medicine in England for nearly three years, I can bear personal testimony to the fact that people will wait longer for care and will die sooner than they do under the present system. We need health care reform, but this isn’t it.”
As the issue moves to the Senate, Land said the ERLC “will continue to press for health care more in keeping with the 15 principles laid out for health care reform which are available at our website [www.erlc.com].”
The Senate is working on its own version of the health care bill, and — assuming it passes that chamber — it will be merged with the House bill in conference. Abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood, pledged to try to kill the House abortion amendment before any bill goes to the president. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards applauded the members who voted against it and said the group “will work with those members to rectify this travesty.”
Stupak, who voted for the overall bill, said his amendment simply applied the Hyde Amendment — which is current law — to the health care bill. The Hyde Amendment, which must be renewed yearly, prevents Medicaid from paying for elective abortions. It was first passed in the mid-1970s. Stupak said without his amendment, the health care bill would be a “direct assault” on the Hyde Amendment.
“I am not writing a new federal abortion policy,” Stupak said on the floor. “I ask my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike: Let us stand together on principle of no public funding for abortion, no public funding for insurance policies that pay for abortion.”
Opponents of the amendment argued that the bill as-written already prohibited federal funding of abortion. According to their argument, the bill covered abortion under the public option but did so by using the premium money received from enrollees. Pro-choicers did not consider that money federal money. Pro-lifer weren’t convinced.
“Every dollar in the public option is a federal dollar,” Rep. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., an amendment supporter, said during debate. “Let me be clear: If the government plan covers abortion, that amounts to federal funding of abortion. It’s that simple.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D.-N.Y., called the amendment “reprehensible.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R.-Wash., disagreed.
“If we’re talking about health care reform for women and children, then protection for children should start at the moment their life begins,” Rodgers said.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said the bill — without the amendment — would increase the number of abortions.
“If we truly don’t want to see more abortions and we want to reduce them, don’t fund it,” Smith said. “… Millions of people are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, because funding was not there to effectuate their demise. Vote for the Stupak-Pitts amendment. It will save lives.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. See how your representative voted on the Stupak amendment at http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/roll884.xml. See how your representative voted on the overall bill at http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/roll887.xml.