Understanding the Debate Over Abortion in the Health Reform Plan

Bart Stupak and Lois Capps make their cases.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Abortion has emerged as a major hurdle in the push for healthcare reform legislation, with a vote expected today on a critical amendment that threatens to torpedo the whole thing. The amendment comes from a pair of pro-life Democrats, Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and aims to bar federal funds from helping to pay for abortions. This is essentially the same language that got tacked on to the healthcare bill in the House, known there as the Stupak amendment, for its sponsor, Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak. They insist that they are just trying to make sure that existing federal law is applied to healthcare reform. But pro-choice critics say that the Nelson/Stupak approach is more restrictive than the current law and would place new restrictions on abortion rights. They advocate for an approach that, they say, would keep the current ban while not impinging more broadly on a woman's right to get what is a perfectly legal medical procedure.

In an effort to sort it all out we asked Stupak and Rep. Lois Capps, the California Democrat who lead the pro-choice side in the House (and whose views are currently incorporated in the senate bill), to write commentaries making their respective cases. You can read Stupak's here and you can read Capps's here. They're both worth a look because the health reform effort could turn on this issue: Nelson has said he will oppose the bill if his amendment doesn't pass (and it's not expected to); and Stupak Democrats made the margin of victory in the House.

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