U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that while she opposes an anti-abortion amendment to the House version of the health care bill, it was necessary for the measure to pass.
The California Democrat said the language to prohibit the new government insurance plan from covering abortions "would have been in the bill one way or another." She said backers of the far-reaching legislation to overhaul the U.S. health care system thought it was better to have the language included as an amendment to be voted on than as a provision "that could take down the whole bill."
Pelosi, who spoke at a brief news conference following a tour of Seattle's Swedish Medical Center, said she thinks both sides can eventually find "common ground" on the issue, but they aren't there yet. "So the amendment was necessary in order to give them a chance to vote on that so that we could pass the bill," she said.
The House bill, which passed Saturday on a 220-215 vote, is projected to expand coverage to 36 million uninsured, resulting in 96 percent of the nation's eligible population having insurance.
It faces strong opposition in the Senate, where the stumbling block is the idea of the government competing with private insurers. Some abortion foes in the Senate also are seeking tough restrictions in the bill, while some Democrats are threatening to vote against a final bill if the curbs stay in.
The amendment that passed Saturday would bar the government plan from covering abortions, except in cases of incest or rape, or when the life of the mother is in danger. The Democrats' original legislation would have allowed the plan to cover abortions, if the Health and Human Services secretary decided it should.
It also would prohibit people who receive new federal health subsidies from buying insurance plans that include abortion coverage. The original bill would have allowed people getting federal subsidies to pay for abortion coverage with their own money.
Pelosi toured the hospital with Washington Democratic Congressmen Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee. She said it was appropriate to visit Swedish as her first public appearance since Saturday's vote because the hospital is looking for ways to improve care while limiting costs.
Among such efforts, she said, are protocols to lessen the chances of infections in intensive care units, and a "medical home" pilot project, in which a team of physicians and health care workers coordinates primary care, wellness and disease prevention for patients. The idea is that such comprehensive care costs less than when patients seek help only when they get seriously ill.