Democrats block pro-life effort on health care bill

WASHINGTON (BP)--A U.S. House of Representatives committee protected abortion services in a proposed government health-care plan Thursday in a turn of events that saw it first approve, then defeat an amendment to prevent required coverage of the lethal procedure.

The committee, however, passed an amendment to provide conscience protections for pro-life health care workers, as well as institutions that refuse to perform abortions.

The panel, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was expected to approve its version of health care reform Friday before the House began a five-week recess.

The panel considered amendments to America's Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, after about two weeks of delays because of disagreements among Democrats. Chairman Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., announced July 29 he had reached an agreement with four of the committee's seven Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of 52 more fiscally conservative members of the majority. Though liberals protested the agreement, a deal reportedly was agreed upon that salvaged the bill before the recess.

When the panel resumed consideration of the legislation Thursday, July 30, mandated abortion coverage remained part of essential health care benefits, but pro-life members gained its removal at one point. The committee reversed that decision later, primarily as the result of a vote switch by one of the Blue Dogs, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee.

The committee voted 31-27 for that amendment -- sponsored by Reps. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., and Bart Stupak, D.-Mich. -- to bar abortion from being required as part of a basic health benefits package in government and private plans. Waxman, an abortion rights supporter, voted for the amendment, apparently so he could request a re-vote later. When he called for a new vote, the amendment failed 30-29. Waxman changed his vote, and Gordon also voted "no" after supporting the same measure earlier. In addition, Rep. Zack Space, D.-Ohio, voted against the amendment after not recording a vote the first time.

The committee earlier approved in a 30-28 roll call an amendment from Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., that supposedly maintains current bans on federal funding of abortion. The Family Research Council (FRC) derided it as a "phony compromise," however.

The amendment by Capps, a pro-choice advocate, permits the "public health insurance option" -- which would be paid for by the federal government -- to fund elective abortions. It would, though, require the public plan to cover abortions if the Hyde Amendment is overturned, according to FRC. It also would mandate subsidies for plans that include abortion while establishing an accounting device that appears to give the impression government funds will not underwrite abortion, FRC reported.

After the votes July 30, pro-life leaders decried the continued inclusion of abortion in the health care reform plans promoted by President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress.

"This current health care legislation has quality of life, rather than sanctity of life, fingerprints all over it, from abortion at the beginning of life to euthanasia at the end of life," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "If abortion is allowed as an essential service under any of these bills, it will be the greatest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.

"Fifty-one percent of Americans now call themselves pro-life, and 71 percent of Americans say they are opposed to public funding of abortion," Land told Baptist Press. "It's time for all those Americans to speak up and tell these congressmen how displeased they are with their votes."

FRC President Tony Perkins called the legislation "one huge abortion edict."

"It has been clear to many that the health bills moving through Congress would fund abortion services and mandate coverage for abortion, jumping well beyond the current law which prohibits the funding or subsidizing of abortion," he said in a written statement. "While many abortion proponents claimed we were incorrect in our conclusions, even the most strident deniers would have to agree the amendment offered by Rep. Capps puts the matter to rest."

Stupak and Pitts were successful in achieving adoption of a conscience clause amendment. The language, approved by a voice vote, would prevent discrimination against any doctor, medical professional, hospital, health care facility or insurance plan that "does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."

The 30-29, roll call vote that resulted in defeat of the Pitts-Stupak amendment to prevent mandate abortion coverage found all 23 Republicans and 6 Democrats in support. In addition to Stupak, the other Democrats voting for the pro-life amendment were Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Baron Hill of Indiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana and Mike Ross of Arkansas.

Two other House committees -- Education and Labor, as well as Ways and Means -- have approved health care legislation without excluding abortion.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has urged voters to contact their members of Congress regarding health care legislation by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121; e-mailing them by accessing www.erlc.com and clicking on "Take Action," or contacting the district office of their congressman or state offices of their senators.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

Download Story