A group of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to force changes to the new national health care law unless the Obama administration does more to ensure that federal dollars won't be used to pay for elective abortions.
Emboldened by a new analysis by Congress' nonpartisan research agency, the Republicans urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to "act immediately" to prohibit most abortion coverage in the temporary government-backed insurance "pools" that the legislation created.
"Absent such contractual requirements, it will be necessary for Congress to modify the current law to include restrictions to prevent federal dollars from being used to prevent such coverage," said the letter signed by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, and 12 other GOP senators.
The senators' request came on the heels of a Friday memo by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which concluded that the health care law was vaguely written in regard to abortion funding. The question of whether Mr. Obama's plan would open the door to federal funding of abortions proved one of the most politically difficult issues of the health care debate endgame for congressional Democrats.
CRS researchers said that, under certain situations, the law could permit elective abortions in the new, federally funded "Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans," which will provide coverage in the states for high-risk uninsured people who have been turned away by private insurers.
"CRS confirms our concern that [federal legislation] lacks any restrictions prohibiting states from using federal funding to pay for abortions" in the new high-risk insurance pools, the GOP letter said.
The senators requested that Mrs. Sebelius address their concerns, including identifying special actions and a timeline for implementation, by Friday.
Days before the CRS report was released, the issue flared as several states began to write regulations for the high-risk insurance pools.
New Mexico's version of the plan initially called for coverage of elective abortion, causing outrage among Republicans. Abortion foes also raised questions about plans being drafted in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The uproar caused Mrs. Sebelius' Health and Human Services Department to issue a statement two weeks ago reiterating that all states must comply with an executive order signed by President Obama in March that reaffirmed long-standing federal restrictions against spending taxpayer dollars for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
But the CRS report said that nothing in the health care reform law, Mr. Obama's executive order or in recently-released HHS contract materials specifically prohibits a state high-risk pool from covering elective abortions.
When asked for a comment, HHS spokeswoman Jessica Santillo referred The Washington Times to an HHS news release earlier this month that said that Mr. Obama's executive order specifically prohibits federally funded abortions.
A request to Ms. Santillo for a response regarding the senators' letter was not returned.
Anti-abortion rights groups have been pressing Congress to pass a law that explicitly prohibits the use of all federal taxpayer dollars for abortion.
"The new [CRS memo] affirms Americans United for Life's legal analysis - nothing in the new health care reform law, the President's executive order, or any existing laws comprehensively prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions," said Charmaine Yoest, president and chief executive of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, in a statement.
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