The Senate is grappling over a strict clampdown on abortion coverage that emerged as part of a House bill to overhaul the healthcare system, adding yet another hurdle to a process that has already run into overtime.
Senate may replay House abortion clash
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who spearheaded a bipartisan effort to reshape the nation's health sector, said he was surprised on Saturday when the House adopted language that prohibits private insurers from offering abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange the bill would create.
“This is new,” Baucus said. “I thought we pretty much had this solved in the Senate.”
In the run-up to the Senate's reform package, Baucus has had to stave off measures from anti-abortion proponents that would have gone beyond the current federal law that disallows the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions except in a handful of situations.
But the House's 240-194 vote to approve the stricter language, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), could embolden anti-abortion senators to press for tighter restrictions as well.
Of the 60 Democrats in the Senate, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America advocacy group counts 47 who support abortion rights, 11 who are mixed on the topic and two who are anti-abortion.
“As a pro-life person, I believe that something like the Stupak amendment should be included in the Senate version,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a centrist Democrat who has been coy with how he plans to vote on the reform package, said.
Nelson said that if the bill does not explicitly prevent federal dollars from going toward abortion services, “You can be sure I will vote against it.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he doesn't want the controversial topic to scuttle what he sees as a good-faith effort to shake up the healthcare system.
“I hope we keep focus on the broader issues in healthcare reform and insurance reform and not get too sidetracked by social agendas that people might have,” he said.
Some Republican members, too, said they are OK with the current language in the bill.
“I think the Senate Finance Committee did a good job of putting up a firewall that would prevent federal funds from being used to finance abortions,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said.
What do you think? Post a comment on this article and share your opinion with other readers. Submit your comments to Modern Healthcare Online at [email protected]. Please be sure to include your hometown and state, along with your organization and title.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.