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Senate panel rejects proposed ban on abortion funding in health reform legislation

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Finance Committee rejected Sept. 30 an amendment that would have prohibited federal funds from paying for abortions in plans or subsidies established by a new health-care reform bill.

The same committee turned back an amendment that would have barred the government from coercing hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers from participating in abortions.

The vote against each amendment was 13-10, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, the sponsor in each case.

The votes came on attempted changes to legislation sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., the Finance Committee’s chairman. Though Baucus has said he does not want federal funds to cover abortion in his bill, Hatch reported, it would authorize government subsidies to help some Americans purchase private health insurance that covers elective abortions.

It also includes language that would further liberalize the bill’s abortion policy if Congress decides not to renew the Hyde Amendment, pro-life critics of the Baucus proposal say. That amendment, first adopted more than 30 years ago, is part of the spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and bars Medicaid from paying for abortions. The Hyde Amendment has to be renewed each year, however, and many Democrats in Congress oppose it.

Expressing disappointment with both votes, Hatch said in a written release, “The American people do not want, and should not be expected, to foot the bill for abortions.

“I do not feel any persons with deeply held religious or moral beliefs should be put in any situation where they would be forced to perform abortions.”

In a rebuke of those who said the amendments are unnecessary, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said, “If there was not a need for Senator Hatch’s amendments, he wouldn’t have brought them, and if there hadn’t been a need for them, then the pro-abortion elements in the Senate would not have opposed them so vigorously.

“The vigorous and unflinching opposition of the pro-abortion forces in the Senate only serves to underscore the desperate need for protecting both life and conscience represented in Senator Hatch’s amendments,” Land told Baptist Press.

The Finance Committee’s defeat of the abortion-funding restriction means five congressional committees – two in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives — have failed to act to prevent federal funds from paying for elective abortions in health-reform legislation. The Hatch amendment would have allowed funding for abortions in the cases of a threat to the mother’s life and a pregnancy by rape or incest.

While Hatch’s language would not have permitted government funds to subsidize plans that cover abortions, it would have allowed insurance companies to provide abortion coverage through separate plans not subsidized with federal money

The Baucus bill will not maintain the current policy, as some abortion-rights advocates have said of current Democratic health-care proposals, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

“Rather than maintain the status quo on abortion funding or conscience rights, the Baucus bill will greatly increase the number of abortions in our country and offer fewer protections for health plans that refuse to cover elective abortion,” Perkins said in a written statement. “This isn’t the status quo, it’s a pro-abortion expansion.”

Twelve Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted against both Hatch amendments. One Democrat, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, voted with nine GOP members for both measures.

The Baucus legislation does not include a public, or government, option, which is backed by many Democrats. The Finance Committee voted down two amendments Sept. 29 that would have incorporated a public option in the measure.

On Sept. 28, 183 members of the House – 158 Republicans and 25 Democrats – wrote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., and Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D.-N.Y., asking for a floor vote on an amendment to bar federal funding of abortion in health-care legislation. Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., are seeking approval by the full House of the amendment after similar proposals they sponsored were rejected in committee.

President Obama told a joint session of Congress Sept. 9 “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place” under his health-reform plan.

Pro-life advocates took a wait-and-see attitude or expressed skepticism about the president’s assertion.

The Senate Finance Committee’s votes on the Hatch amendments and the opposition by the House leadership to permitting a vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment “demonstrate the hollowness of President Obama’s public assurances that he does not seek government funding of abortion,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

Also on Sept. 30, the Senate Finance Committee rejected in a 13-10, party-line vote an amendment intended to help prevent health-care rationing. The panel voted down an amendment by Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., that would have deleted a provision that says Medicare doctors who are in the top 10 percent of per capita cost annually will forfeit 5 percent of their Medicare reimbursements for the year, according to NRLC.

That vote “should put America’s senior citizen on alert: If the death spiral provision actually becomes law, their Medicare providers will start a race to the bottom to avoid being captured in the top [10] percent,” said NRLC medical ethicist Burke Balch in a written statement. “Older Americans who rely on Medicare would be faced with fewer and less-effective treatment options.”
With reporting by Michael Foust.