KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Democrats Stymied On Abortion In Health Reform Bills

Reaction to the amendment restricting abortion in the House health reform bill, passed more than a week ago, continued to reverberate through news outlets today.

Roll Call: "On the eve of the Senate debate over health care reform, a leading Democratic moderate predicted Sunday that reform legislation won't pass if it doesn't include a controversial measure to restrict abortion funding. 'What is clear is that for this bill to be successful, there can be no taxpayer funding for abortion,' Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said, appearing on CNN's 'State of the Union.'  Conrad said he did not know whether the Senate would ultimately adopt the restrictive language that the House passed last week, which dictated that any new government-funded health insurance option cannot pay for abortions" (Kurtz and Roth, 11/15).

Fox News: "White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod suggested Sunday that President Obama will intervene to make sure a controversial amendment restricting federal funding for abortion coverage is stripped from final health care reform legislation. In doing so, the president would be heeding the call of abortion rights supporters like Planned Parenthood that have called the White House their 'strongest weapon' in keeping such restrictions out of the bill. The abortion amendment was tacked on to the House health care bill and was a key factor in securing the votes of moderate Democrats before the bill was approved by a narrow margin last weekend. ... Axelrod said in an interview Sunday that the amendment changes the 'status quo,' something the president cannot abide" (11/15).

Politico: "By teeing up a public battle over abortion in the health care bill now before the Senate, congressional Democrats could be risking more than just the fate of the legislation. Hanging in the balance are millions of Catholic swing voters who moved decisively to the Democrats in 2008 and who could shift away just as readily in 2010. According to exit polls, President Barack Obama won the support of 53 percent of Catholic voters, a seven-point increase over the showing of the Democrats' 2004 nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a Catholic. ... 'It could be harder for the Democrats to keep those Catholics voters they gained and they may put some of their members at risk,' said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron. Moreover, said Green, Catholics are a constituency that backs the reform effort itself. 'To alienate them on abortion could be to alienate them on health care reform,' he said" (Cummings, 11/15).

The Associated Press: "Abortion rights groups, outflanked and outnumbered in the health debate, are scrambling to regain lost ground after the House passed a health bill with strict abortion limits. They're blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists, petitions, letters and phone calls in efforts to defeat the restrictions in the Senate, where debate could begin in a few days. They also have a larger goal: to prove that with their Democratic allies in control of the White House and both congressional chambers - but increasingly appealing to conservative voters who back abortion limits - they still have clout.  .... NARAL says it has begun a major grass-roots mobilization, including collecting more than 40,000 signatures on a petition addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., demanding that he omit the abortion curbs from health legislation he's drafting" (Hirschfed Davis, 11/14).

The New York Times: "Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard, said the choice between trying to stop an erosion of abortion rights and trying to improve health care for women pitted 'what are described as two fundamental human rights - the right to universal coverage and the right of access to reproductive services - against each other. They aren't just policy trade-offs,' he said. 'And that's why this is so wrenching.' Some House Democrats initially vowed that if the final bill contained the anti-abortion measure, they would oppose it - even though they had just voted for the House bill with that language" (Seelye, 11/14).

The Washington Post has a Q & A on the abortion language: "1. What is the status quo? Under the 33-year-old federal ban, there is no abortion coverage under Medicaid, the federal employee health benefits plan or the Tricare plan for military families, except where the life of the mother is endangered. Seventeen states use their own funds to provide abortion coverage for Medicaid recipients. A study co-authored by the Guttmacher Institute, which backs abortion rights, found that one in four women who would other get an abortion carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if they lack abortion coverage. Abortion coverage is widespread among private insurance plans -- at least half of people with private coverage have abortion coverage, according to surveys by Guttmacher and the Kaiser Family Foundation" (MacGillis, 11/15).

NPR: "Backers of controversial abortion language added to the House health overhaul bill last week say it merely continues longstanding policy that bans federal funding of the procedure. But opponents say it could have much more far-reaching consequences on access to abortion, particularly in the private insurance market. The ultimate impact of the House abortion amendment could be to change abortion from being a procedure routinely covered by most private insurance plans to a procedure routinely excluded -- even in cases of medical emergency" (Rovner, 11/14).

Related KHN story: How The House Abortion Restrictions Would Work (Appleby, 11/10).

Chicago Tribune has a Q & A about various aspects in the health bills, including: "Q: Will abortions be covered by the health care legislation, as it stands now? A: The House health care bill passed this month includes a provision that would bar the government-run insurance plan (the 'public option') and all private insurance plans that receive federal dollars from covering abortion services. That does not prevent employers from offering abortion services under their benefits packages. The Senate is considering similar provisions but has not decided on specific language" (Geiger and Oliphant, 11/15).


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