Senate Healthcare Plan Lacks House Bill's Strict Abortion Funding Ban

The measure would permit abortion coverage in a public option and in plans that receive subsidies.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Now that Sen. Harry Reid has released the Senate version of the healthcare bill, the two main sides in the culture war—abortion rights advocates and foes—are back to their usual corners.

The House healthcare bill's strict ban on federally subsidized abortion coverage earned Democrats the wrath of their abortion rights allies and praise from abortion opponents. The Senate healthcare plan lacks the language of the House's Stupak-Pitts amendment, which prohibits abortion coverage in the public plan and from private plans receiving government subsidies; instead, it has language that hews closer to the House's scuttled Capps amendment, which allows abortion coverage in the public plan and in private plans receiving federal dollars as long as the money comes from pooled private premiums. (Abortion opponents call it an accounting trick.)

A quick roundup of reaction: In a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America said that its president, Nancy Keenan, "is encouraged that the Senate bill does not include the extreme new anti-choice restrictions adopted by the U.S. House" but protested the bill's continuation of the longstanding ban on federal money for abortion.

"[T]he legislation includes a compromise that continues existing laws that unfairly single out abortion care, including a ban on federal funding," the NARAL statement continued, suggesting that abortion rights supporters will frame the Senate version of the bill as a compromise that keeps them from moving any further to the right on the issue.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, had the opposite reaction to the Senate bill. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected the bipartisan Stupak-Pitts amendment," he said in a statement, "and has substituted completely unacceptable language that would result in coverage of abortion on demand in two big new federal government programs."

Conservative Catholic League President Bill Donohue went further:

Obama has decided to renege on his promise, betray the bishops and defy the American people. Risky business given that today's Rasmussen presidential tracking poll shows only 46 percent of voters approve of Obama's performance. . . . Wait until the public learns about Obama's double cross on abortion!

Interesting to note that the House bill started out with similar abortion language but that a much stiffer ban on abortion funding was adopted during the floor vote. Abortion rights groups are hellbent on ensuring the same thing doesn't happen in the Senate.

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