By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Add abortion to the list of issues that could trip up President Obama's bid for healthcare reform this year. Conservative Democrats and antiabortion Republicans are mounting strong opposition to an element of the health reform plans that would mandate taxpayer funding for abortions, a clause that the White House won't rule out as a key element to the final package. Democrats first raised the issue with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter in which they said that mandated abortion coverage "is unacceptable."
Now Republicans and several antiabortion groups are bringing pressure on the Democratic leaders to remove the mandate language—something the House and Senate leaders appear unwilling to do. Tomorrow, many of the opposition groups are planning a webcast tied to a page called StopTheAbortionMandate.com. Some 15,000 participants have signed up, making it the "largest pro-life community online gathering ever," said one organizer.
The issue shifted into high gear when budget director Peter Orszag this weekend refused to rule out taxpayer funded abortions. On Fox News Sunday, he said, "I think that that will wind up being part of the debate. I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate." He added: "I'm not prepared to rule it out."
In a new letter slated for delivery to lawmakers Thursday, several antiabortion groups raised the issue of protecting doctors and medical technicians who refuse to do abortions because of moral beliefs. They also questioned whether Catholic hospitals will be forced to perform abortions, which are banned by the pope. "If any of the proposed plans move forward without explicit language ensuring that abortion is excluded from any government-managed or taxpayer-subsidized benefits, healthcare reform will be a death sentence for thousands of unborn children," says the letter.
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Corrected on : Corrected on 7/22/09: An earlier version of this article should have referred to StopTheAbortionMandate.com.