Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada released his 2,074-page bill Nov. 18, and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) pointed to the abortion-funding provision within hours.
The Senate bill, titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, fails to include a House-adopted amendment that prohibits federal funds for abortion, instead incorporating "completely unacceptable language that would result in coverage of abortion on demand in two big new federal government programs," said Douglas Johnson, NRLC's legislative director.
It appears Reid will call for a "cloture" vote Saturday to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. It is likely he will need all 60 Democrats to win the procedural vote, and it is uncertain how some senators of his own party will vote. A "cloture" vote requires 60 votes to succeed.
Shortly before barely passing its health-care reform legislation Nov. 7, the House approved an amendment by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., to bar government coverage of abortion in the "public option" and federal subsidies for lower-income people in private insurance plans that cover abortions. Sixty-four Democrats joined 176 Republicans in approving the pro-life amendment 240-194.
The Stupak-Pitts Amendment overturned an earlier amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., that authorized funding for abortions in the "public option" and subsidies for private plans that cover abortions. After Reid presented his bill, Capps said she was pleased with his approach. "It appears that approach closely mirrors my language which was originally included in the House bill," she said in a written statement.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said "some of the language in the Senate bill is unacceptable," just as the Capps Amendment "was unacceptable in the House."
"The Stupak-Pitts Amendment is the minimum required for any genuinely pro-life person," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "People who claim to be pro-life and accept Capps have pro-life views as a preference, not as a conviction. Stupak-Pitts is the bottom line."
The massive Senate bill, which begins addressing abortion on page 116, attempts "to conceal unpopular reality" that it funds abortions "with layers of contrived definitions and hollow bookkeeping requirements," Johnson said in a written statement.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said the Senate bill would require -- as did the House version before it was amended -- all participants in the government-run plan to pay a monthly premium that would underwrite abortions.
While pro-lifers denounced the Senate bill's approach to abortion funding, advocates for abortion rights applauded it.
Sen. Barbara Boxer said the Senate bill "will keep women from being discriminated against when it comes to their reproductive health care. The Senate bill maintains the compromise that has been in place for decades that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, but allows a woman to use her own private funds."
Pro-lifers denied the Senate language will maintain the status quo.
"The Stupak-Pitts Amendment would prevent federal subsidies for abortion by applying the principles of longstanding federal laws such as the Hyde Amendment to the new programs created by the health care legislation," NRLC's Johnson said. "Those principles prohibit both direct funding of abortion procedures, and subsidies for plans that cover elective abortions."
The Stupak-Pitts Amendment -- which allows exceptions for a threat to the life of the mother and pregnancies by rape or incest -- does not bar women from using their own money to purchase a "rider" that covers abortion.
In other recent developments in the continuing fight over abortion funding in health-care reform:
-- President Obama indicated he was unlikely to sign a health-care bill that included the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. In a Nov. 18 interview with Fox News, the president said he was looking for a balance between federal money not paying for abortions and restrictions not being placed on women's choices. When asked if the Stupak-Pitts language achieved that balance, Obama said, "Not yet."
-- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Nov. 19 she is "optimistic we'll find common ground" on the abortion-funding issue in health care, according to the website Talking Points Memo (TPM). She said she believes the abortion issue will not prevent the differing House and Senate bills from being combined in a conference committee, adding that the House Democrats agree the final version should be "abortion-neutral," which seemed to imply Stupak-Pitts would not be included if they have their way.
Meanwhile, Stupak has said he has enough votes to defeat a conference report that returns to the House without his amendment included. The bill would lose "at least 10 to 15 to 20" votes in the House if his amendment is removed, Stupak told Fox News.
"They're not going to take it out," he said. "If they do, health care will not move forward."
The Senate bill debuted the same week polls were released showing solid majorities of Americans oppose federal funding of abortion in health-care legislation.
A CNN poll found adults are against "using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it" by a 61-37 percent margin. A CBS News poll showed that by a 56-34 percent margin Americans say insurance plans should not cover abortion "if the federal government provides subsidies or credits to help people buy health insurance."
In unveiling his health-care proposal, Reid said it would reduce the deficit by $130 billion, expand coverage to 94 percent of Americans and provide insurance for 31 million people who are now uninsured, while costing an estimated $848 billion over 10 years.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, countered by saying Reid's reforms, which would not take effect until 2014, will cost $2.5 trillion over 10 years when completely implemented, cut Medicare by $465 billion and increase taxes by $493 billion.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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