Senate’s Weak Abortion Language Could Kill Obama Health Reform Bill

Abortion language could kill the president’s overhaul effort.

By SHARE

By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog 

Though President Barack Obama and the White House would have people believe otherwise, the anti-abortion funding provisions included in the Senate-passed version of the healthcare bill are significantly weaker than the so-called "ironclad" prohibitions that Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak added to the bill in the House. The differences matter, so much so that Stupak and a handful of colleagues--enough to kill the Senate bill if it is brought up in the House--are threatening to vote 'No' unless the language to block federal funds from paying for abortions and abortion-related services is strengthened.

They have the votes to do it. The bill only passed by the barest of margins the first time. Now, Pelosi has to find four additional "aye" votes on top of her original majority because the only Republican to vote for the bill--Louisiana's Joseph Cao--has announced his opposition while three other votes in favor have been lost due to death or resignation from Congress.

Pelosi is bringing a lot of pressure to bear on members who voted 'No' last time to change their votes but, as new polling data released Wednesday by the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion-rights organization shows, she needs to worry just as much about members who voted "aye" only after the tougher abortion language was added to the original bill.

The surveys, conducted by the polling company, inc/WomanTrend, asked voters in eight Congressional districts held by Democrats whom Pelosi needs to pass the bill about abortion funding and healthcare reform. Among the findings:

• At least three-in-five voters in these targeted districts agree that "Abortion and abortion funding have no place in healthcare legislation."

• At least two-thirds of the voters in each district oppose "using tax dollars to pay for abortions," with the opposition reaching as high as 80 percent in three of them.

Politically, the Pelosi position is also a loser. Voters in each of the districts said they would be more likely to reject a candidate who voted "for healthcare legislation that includes federal funding of abortion" than they would be to support them. Moreover, a clear majority of the voters in seven out of the eight districts said their decision to support or oppose a candidate for Congress hinged, at least partially, on whether "they cast a vote for this type of legislation."

The eight Democrats who occupy the seats in which the surveys were conducted--PA-04 and 11, IN-09 and 11 and Ohio-01, 06, 09 and 16--said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, "face a stark choice: either they are heroes in the face of tremendous pressure, or they are the ultimate betrayers."

"In these districts, voters reflect national pro-life trends, and they expect their values to be translated into public policy. This intensity will translate on Election Day. That means pro-life members must vote no on the senate bill, or any bill that allows abortion funding under the guise of "'healthcare,'" Dannenfelser said.

The intensity of the abortion issue on both sides--which is sometimes the single motivating factor behind how a person votes in congressional elections--puts Pelosi in a box. In order to satisfy the concerns of the Democrats who insist on the need to add language that toughens the prohibition on abortion funding, the Senate bill will have to be changed before the House votes on it. It is unlikely that enough of them can be bought off with the promise of a "fix" later down the road. But, if Pelosi is forced to change the bill in the House, it will have to go back to the Senate, where there may not be enough votes to get it passed once again. 

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare. 
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine. 
  • Listen to Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove's podcast on leadership in the next decade.