Democratic Division On Abortion Language In Health Overhaul Jeopardizes Chances For Passage

"Democratic leaders in Congress are embarking on a delicate strategy to win over abortion opponents, a gambit that could determine whether the legislation becomes law." The Washington Post reports. "The effort depends on convincing as many as a dozen anti-abortion Democrats in the House that abortion language in the Senate bill is more stringent than initially portrayed. But Democratic leaders must be careful that they don't drive away abortion rights supporters who are increasingly concerned that the measure would prove severely restrictive." Rep. Bart Stupak, D- Mich., who leads the abortion opposition, has said repeatedly that he is opposed to the Senate treatment of abortion. "But congressional leaders are still working behind the scenes to try to persuade some in the Stupak group. If the leadership loses antiabortion members, most of them Midwestern Roman Catholics who otherwise support the legislation, the only way to compensate would be to add votes from conservative Democrats who previously opposed the measure" (MacGillis, 3/5).

ABC News: Stupak, said Thursday on Good Morning America, "'I want to see health care pass. I agree ... people are being priced out of the market. We must have health care but, boy, there are some principles and beliefs that some of us are not going to pass,' he said. 'We're prepared to take the responsibility. I mean, I've been catching it ever since last fall. Let's face it, I want to see health care. But we're not going to bypass some principles and beliefs that we feel strongly about'" (Khan, 3/4).

NPR also interviews Stupak: "There are certain principles and values you just don't trade," he said. "No one's trying to defeat the bill. What we're trying to do is maintain current language. I know you'd like me to say that I'm going to vote against the bill. It's hard for me to say I'm going to vote against a bill when you're never seeing the bill. And I'm one of those members and there's others. We take our time. We'll read the legislation. We'll check it out" (Block, 3/4).

The Associated Press: "The issue pits House Democrats against each other just when [President] Obama is calling on them to unite for one last push on health care in a perilous election year." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday expressed frustration over the battle. "'This is not about abortion,' said Pelosi, D-Calif. 'This is a bill about providing quality affordable health care for all Americans.'" The AP reports that some lawmakers who voted with Stupak before may not necessarily stick with him this time. "Rep. Dale Kildee said he's keeping an open mind as he studies the Senate bill. 'I'm looking at the language in the Senate bill to see if it carries out the purpose of the Hyde amendment,' said Kildee, D-Mich. 'If it does so to my satisfaction, I think I could go along with it.' … The long-standing Hyde amendment bars federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/5).

Reuters: "No specific legislation has yet surfaced. But Obama began a final push for reform on Wednesday, urging Congress to vote on the plan in the next few weeks even if it means passing the measure with a narrow Democratic majority and no Republican support. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's top adviser on health issues, said the White House was prepared to bar the use of federal money for abortion" (3/4).

Politico's Live Pulse: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Thursday that it's possible that abortion will be handled in a separate bill. "But while Hoyer proposed that an additional bill could be a viable route forward, the feasibility of that option remains in serious question. As recently as Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that 'there is no conversation' about a 'clean-up' bill in the Senate to resolve Stupak's qualms" (Shiner, 3/4). 

Politico, in a separate story: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is offering to help get the votes in the Senate for a anti-abortion piece of health care reform "and thereby advance the shared goal with Democrats of health care reform. … But abortion has been a stubborn dividing point with the two sides fighting over how tight to make the ban on federal funding" (Rogers, 3/5).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.