Debate Over Abortion Restrictions In Healthcare Bill "Too Close To Call"

The battle in Congress over how, specifically, the healthcare reform bill will prohibit federal funding for abortions — you might recall that whether it will is not even in question — continues apace, and the president's staying out of it.

If you're just tuning in, the bills circulating right now would require insurers to keep federal money and private money separate, and only use the latter to cover abortions. But many are saying that's not a strong enough restriction, since it might give folks the unfortunate impression that abortion is a legal medical procedure.

Says The New York Times:

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call.

Which would mean, as NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan spells out for us, that insurers who do cover abortions would likely stop, rather than accept being cut off from that money. "Women who already have this coverage would lose it," says Keenan. One assumes that's precisely the point.

"The question looms as a test of President Obama's campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not," says The Times. So what's Obama doing about it? Well, after a bunch of Democrats (along with 100 Republicans) wrote Nancy Pelosi a letter telling her they want more restrictions, and representative Bart Stupak of Michigan rounded up 40 Dems willing to block the bill if it doesn't ensure that women can't afford legal abortions no federal money will go anywhere near an insurer that covers abortions, the president gave Stupak a call. And according to Stupak, "He said: ‘Look, try to get this thing worked out among the Democrats. We want you to work it out within the party."

At the moment, then, I give Obama an F on that test of his campaign pledge. Forcing insurers to keep separate accounts for abortion coverage and everything else could plausibly fall under the heading of "supporting abortion rights but seeking middle ground." Letting more stringent restrictions pass, knowing full well they would cause many insurers to stop covering abortions altogether, falls under the heading of "chipping away at reproductive rights until it doesn't actually matter if abortion is technically legal." Anti-choicers have been successfully working that strategy for years, figuring abortion doesn't need to be outlawed if they can block women's access to it at every turn. Letting them get away with it here would not be compromise, but straight-up capitulation — and at this point, there's no telling which way our supposedly pro-choice president would go if it came down to him. Awesome.

Abortion Fight Complicates Debate on Health Care [NY Times]