Bart Stupak, Democratic representative from Michigan, stated in an interview last week that Democratic leadership in the House has blocked all amendments to spending bills that would ban federal funding for abortion. “We are not even allowed to offer the amendment on the floor. And there are members who are not pro-life, who are pro-choice, but who think it is wrong of leadership to deny me and others the opportunity to express our judgment on this issue,” Stupak said in the CBS News interview.
Stupak, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition claimed that a “minimum of 39” Democrats would vote against any health reform bill that did not contain specific language excluding abortion from public funding. Earlier, Stupak and eighteen other pro-life Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying that “plans to mandate coverage for abortion either directly or indirectly is [sic] unacceptable.”
Democratic health care reform bills pending in Congress have called for an administrative body, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or an appointed national health board, to determine which health care services must be covered as part of an essential benefits package. Through new regulations on private insurance, a public plan, or a health insurance exchange, taxpayers would end up subsidizing whatever medical procedures are mandated by the health board. The nineteen pro-life Democrats and other pro-life members of Congress such as Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pennsylvania) argue that this is a back door mandate for taxpayer-funded abortion. “History has demonstrated that unless abortion is explicitly excluded [from health care legislation], administrative agencies and the courts will mandate it,” Pitts said in a statement before the Energy & Commerce mark up.
Pro-life Democrats are under extreme pressure from members of their own caucus and the Obama Administration to compromise on abortion and other issues in the health care legislation. So far, committees in Congress have rejected all attempts to exclude abortion from coverage in nationalized health care. During mark-up of the Kennedy-Dodd health care bill, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved provisions to require insurance plans to contract with organizations that perform abortions. In addition, several amendments were rejected that would have preserved states’ laws regulating abortion, prohibited federal funds from being used for abortions, and provided conscience protections for health care providers for not providing abortions.
While President Obama himself has remained noncommittal on the issue of mandating taxpayer funding for abortion, he has gone on record opposing current federal laws that restrict federal programs like Medicaid and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program from funding elective abortions, and he has moved to overturn existing regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care workers who object to performing abortions.