KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Dems Face Huge Challenge In Reconciling Abortion Language In House, Senate Health Bills

Several news outlets are following the dilemmas that Democrats are facing in the health reform bills due to abortion.

The New York Times profiles Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn.: "As the only senator committed to remaking health care and opposing abortion, he is the lone senator actively working for a compromise that might defuse the issue, a position that has made him a special target of attacks. 'Both sides shooting at you,' Mr. Casey said Wednesday in an interview. ...  Mr. Casey has publicly avoided the issue for months, working on the abortion provisions behind the scenes with Senate Democratic leaders while devoting his public statements to preserving the current children's health insurance program. 'I don't know how many speeches I have given saying, 'No child worse off,'' he said."

"But that was before the abortion question blew up in the House of Representatives, threatening ultimately to derail the bill. A group of about 40 Democratic opponents of abortion forced tight restrictions on abortion financing into the chamber's bill just before passage and are now insisting that those provisions be in the final version of the legislation. Meanwhile, abortion rights supporters are threatening to block any bill that contains the restrictions, though their numbers and resolve have not been tested. The current Senate bill incorporates the looser provisions preferred by abortion rights supporters. ... Mr. Casey said he set his course on the issue last summer, when the question came before him in the Senate health committee. He broke with his party to vote in favor of an amendment adding the same abortion restrictions as the House bill. But when the amendment failed narrowly, he voted to approve the resulting bill anyway" (Kirkpatrick, 11/26).

CQ Politics reports on how Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is a strong supporter of abortion rights, is expected to handle the abortion language in the House bill. "What's angering and puzzling to Pelosi's ideological equals is that such a setback was the last thing they expected from a House under her control. They have vowed to keep the language out of the final version of the bill and are counting on Pelosi to make that happen should the legislation advance into a conference with the Senate. Defeat of the language will require political skill, careful negotiation and exacting vote counting."

"At her first news conference since the Nov. 7 House vote, Pelosi, always the dogged negotiator, expressed optimism that an acceptable compromise can be reached. At the same time, she hardened her public opposition to the amendment, offered by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak. ... For all the bravado about changing the language, Pelosi's options are limited, and she'll have to walk a fine mathematical line.  ... The situation highlights a reality not widely recognized by some Democrats: The House's majority of abortion rights opponents is due in part to the party's successes" (Epstein, 11/26).

And, The Hill notes that "Social networking sites are helping abortion-rights supporters and opponents fire up their grassroots in preparation for a big fight in the Senate over insurance coverage for abortions. Advocates on both sides have used Facebook, Twitter, text messages and new blogs to attract supporters and keep members informed ... For example, NARAL Pro-Choice America participated in a campaign that generated more than 97,000 signatures in opposition to the so-called Stupak amendment ... Much of the current push is to build up support for a planned Dec. 2 lobby day. NARAL is one of more than 40 women's and abortion-rights groups participating in the campaign."

"Abortion-rights opponents, meanwhile, are also reaching out to their base in hopes of adding Stupak-like language to the Senate bill. The National Right to Life group maintains six Facebook pages, which collectively have 21,000 'friends.' It maintains a blog,, and a Twitter feed that has 1,100 members. 'It's a whole different world from the days of the telephone tree,' said Jones, referring to the old method of maintaining contact with the group's membership" (Snyder, 11/27).

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