Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

Career battle

Healthcare | House healthcare passage could hinge on pro-life Democrats

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

On a rainy Saturday, pro-life activists lay down on the street outside the White House to form the number 71. That's the percentage of Americans, according to a recent poll, who oppose taxpayer-funded abortions. But in the long healthcare debate, lawmakers have largely ignored that number.

There have been more than a dozen failed efforts to exclude abortion services in any overhaul. Current law prohibits federal funding for abortion procedures through Medicaid, the federal employee health plan, and military plans. But the new health bill creates new federal funding avenues that are not covered under current law. Soon after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her supersized $894 billion, 1,990-page healthcare proposal, one of the authors of the failed amendments, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., complained that the language in the bill "does not do enough" to prevent federally-funded abortion services. Stupak said as many as 39 other Democrats shared his concerns-and that got the attention of the House leadership: With Republicans in uniform opposition, 40 Democratic defectors could derail the bill.

Stupak demanded a full House vote on his amendment prohibiting abortion coverage in the new federal subsidies, but Pelosi wants to push the House bill through barring amendments. House leaders may float cosmetic changes in hopes of siphoning off enough pro-life Democrats while retaining the government option to pay for abortions.

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The hard-line stance has been buoyed by the "tremendous promises" Democrats made to pro-abortion groups during last year's elections, according to Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America. For pro-life Democrats, that means risking alienating themselves from their party's leadership. "They are facing enormous pressure to support this bill," Day told me. "House leaders really didn't think pro-life Democrats would stick it out this long."

But those Democrats say they remain serious about their opposition. As Stupak ally Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio, explained, "This is a battle that we pro-life Democrats have dealt with our entire careers."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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