Much of the controversy in President Obama and congressional Democrats’ health care overhaul thus far has focused on the public option and concerns with the budget-busting price tag. But as negotiations in Congress on hundreds of pages of complex legislative text continue to move at break-neck pace, all leading up to floor consideration scheduled in the next few weeks, the issue of taxpayer funding for abortion is threatening to take center stage.
Just before Congress broke for the 4th of July recess, nineteen Democrat members of the House sent a sternly worded letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warning that “we cannot support any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan.”
The letter expressed fears that, while the massive health care bill might not explicitly mention health insurance coverage for abortion, a new “Health Benefits Advisory Committee” or other bureaucracy set up by health care reform legislation would have the ability to mandate abortion coverage as part of a taxpayer-subsidized health insurance exchange or public plan option. The Democratic legislators also noted the conspicuous absence of any reference to abortion in the “landmark” health care legislation speeding its way through Congress, saying “with legislation as important as this, abortion must be addressed clearly in the bill text.”
During mark-up of the Kennedy-Dodd health care bill, the Committee approved provisions to require insurance plans to contract with organizations that perform abortions. In addition, several amendments were rejected that would have preserved states’ laws regulating abortion, prohibited federal funds from being used for abortions, and provided conscious protections for health care providers for not providing abortions.
Judging from the facts that 1) pro-choice groups on the left such as NARAL have long been pushing the Obama Administration to include coverage of abortion as part of nationalized health care; 2) the abortion issue contributed to the downfall of the Clinton health care plan in the early 1993; and 3) national polling data shows that, for the first time since polling began, a majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life, it’s no wonder that Democrat leadership in the House and Senate have wished to remain silent on the abortion funding issue for as long as possible. But with mutiny afoot among pro-life and moderate Democrats on this issue and several others, and increasing awareness of the abortion-health care reform connection in the public and among pro-life groups, the abortion issue could again play a pivotal role in the direction of health care reform.
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