Pro-life Dems seek to hold Pres. Obama 'to his word'
WASHINGTON (BP)--A coalition of about 40 pro-life Democrats apparently could decide the fate of a health care bill that soon will come before the House of Representatives, with the outcome decided either way by only a handful of votes.
At issue is whether the health care bill being written by congressional Democratic leaders will include public funding for abortion -- which every bill passed in recent months by committees in the House and Senate did, in one form or another. Those various bills are being combined.
Leading the Democratic pro-life coalition is Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., who offered an amendment in a committee in July that would have explicitly prevented the health care bill from funding abortion. It was defeated, 30-28.
"We're holding the president to his word," Stupak said in an interview on C-SPAN Tuesday, referencing President Obama's pledge that there would be no federal funding of abortion.
Stupak would prefer that his amendment receive a vote on the floor, but Democratic leaders likely won't allow him to offer it because it would be "almost certain to prevail," the Associated Press reported. If his amendment is not allowed a floor vote, then his only option is to try to prevail in a procedural vote known as the vote on the "rule" -- a vote that sets the rules on debating and amending the bill. If Stupak and his coalition of about 40 Democrats prevails, then the health care bill cannot be brought to the floor.
It apparently is the best option for pro-lifers in both parties. The National Right to Life Committee sent a letter to representatives Oct. 21 warning that the vote on the rule would be included in its scorecard that rates congressional members.
"We will try to -- we, there's about 40 likeminded Democrats like myself -- we'll try to take down the rule," Stupak told CNSNews.com. "If all 40 of us vote in a bloc against the rule -- because we think the Republicans will join us -- we can defeat the rule. The magic number is 218. If we can have 218 votes against the rule, we win."
Stupak is unique because, otherwise, he's a liberal on health care. He supports a public option, as long as it doesn't cover abortion.
"I, for one, would like to vote for health care," he said on C-SPAN, adding that "the speaker is not happy with me."
"If it costs me my seat, so be it," Stupak said.
There's little margin for error. There currently are 256 Democrats, 177 Republicans and two vacancies (which will be filled in Nov. 3 special elections). If the vote takes place before the two vacancies are filled and if all 177 Republicans and the 40 Democrats hold together, then the rule would be defeated, 217-216. That assumes there are exactly 40 pro-life Democratic votes.
Stupak says he knows that Democratic leaders will try and "twist arms" while the vote is taking place.
Stupak and 28 other House Democrats signed a letter that was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that she allow a floor vote on a pro-life amendment to the House bill. The letter was dated Sept. 29.
"While some assert that language contained in variations of H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act, is sufficient to preclude Federal funds being used for abortion, we do not agree," the letter read. "If eliminating Federal funding of abortion is sincerely the goal, then a simple solution would be to include the Hyde Amendment to the version of H.R. 3200 that comes to the Floor -- the intent and effect of which is understood by all Members."
The Hyde Amendment, which must be renewed yearly, prevents Medicaid from paying for elective abortions. It does not, though, apply automatically to health care legislation.
"This is a serious matter for us and for our constituents, and regardless of their views on abortion, many Members are opposed to Federal funding," the letter concluded. "We respectfully request inclusion of the Hyde Amendment in H.R. 3200 as it comes to the Floor."
Stupak also told CNSNews.com that he had a frank discussion with President Obama in recent days regarding Obama's Sept. 9 pledge to Congress that "under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions." Stupak said he read Obama's words back to him.
"And he said, 'What it says is 'under my plan' -- meaning the president's plan. And I said, 'With all due respect, sir, you do not have a plan. The only plan we have out is the House plan.' So, I don't know if it is a game of semantics or what," Stupak said.
"And when I pointed this out, [Obama] said, 'Go back and work with the people on your committee and get this matter worked out. Work with the speaker. Work with us, would you?' And I said, 'Yes, I would. And we have tried. But we haven't been able to resolve our differences because we do not want public funds going for abortion.'"
Although it is being rewritten, the House bill (H.R. 3200) as of a month ago explicitly covered abortion and detailed how it would be funded. The bill included a government-run public option and -- in a supposed compromise supported by pro-choicers -- said abortions could be paid for only through enrollees' premiums, which the bill does not consider to be public funds. Pro-lifers called it a bookkeeping scam. They argue that the federal agency running the public option would be reimbursing abortion doctors using a federal bank account -- and by definition it is federal money.
"The federal government is running the whole scheme from start to finish," National Right to Life's Douglas Johnson told Baptist Press.
An Aug. 5 Associated Press story said "the public plan -- and private insurance offered in the [health care] exchange -- would be allowed to cover abortion, without funding restrictions."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.