Blue dog Democrats are trying to stave off any government funding of abortions that could result in an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last month, 20 conservative Democrats expressed their concern that the bill’s silence on abortion is precisely the problem with it, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The members say they will not support any healthcare proposal “unless it excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan."
Rep. Bart Stupak, a conservative Democratic congressman from Michigan, wants Pelosi and the Democratic-controlled House to include language restricting taxpayer funds for the procedure. Stupak plans a news conference Wednesday to criticize the proposed legislation, and he expects lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to join him.
Conservative Democrats opposed to using public funds to end pregnancies say the omission of abortion language in the nearly 1,100-page bill implies a "hidden mandate" and opens the door for the federal government to fund the procedure.
The law now prohibits the federal funding of abortion through Medicaid in most cases, and supporters of the bill contend this is the reason the legislation includes no language about it.
But opponents say that, if the government offers its own competitive health insurance plan, or if it helps create a public option through private insurance plans, the issue could become cloudy.
On Tuesday, yet another group of congressman urging a compromise wrote Pelosi with their suggestion on how to address the contentious issue. They propose leaving the decision up to insurers working within the healthcare system but would forbid them from using federal subsidies to pay for the procedure.
"This solution maintains the current status quo in the private market, where insurance companies can choose whether to include this coverage in their plans, and individuals can choose which plan fits their individual needs and values while ensuring that no federal funds are used to pay for abortions," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, wrote in the letter, which he and three other conservative Democrats wrote.
On the Republican side of the aisle, Rep. John Fleming, a medical doctor from Louisiana, said, "By being silent on this issue, [Obama is] actually making an affirmative statement in favor of taxpayer abortions."
Trying to find a compromise between the two sides is Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Healthcare reform, one of President Barack Obama's top domestic priorities, is expected to be introduced before Congress goes on recess in August.
In an interview last week with CBS News, Obama, who supports abortion rights, said rather than wade into the abortion issue at this point, “I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings and not get distracted by the abortion debate."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told AP he will not let the abortion issue "embroil" the healthcare reform debate.
"Healthcare reform is not about [the abortion] issue at all," he said Tuesday, vowing the Senate version of the plan will be "neutral — status quo."
Charmaine Yoest, executive director of Americans United for Life, told The Times that, unless there is specific wording to the contrary, abortion services will be included.
"Unless you can specifically exclude abortion, it will be part of any federalized healthcare system," he said.
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