As disturbing as the trade-in of abortion rights for healthcare reform is, it now looks like House Democrats won't let abortion coverage go down without a fight.

Greg Sargent reports at least 41 pro-choice Democrats have signed a letter to Nancy Pelosi stating the following:

As Members of Congress we believe that women should have access to a full range of reproductive health care. Health care reform must not be misused as an opportunity to restrict women's access to reproductive health services.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women's ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women's right to choose any further than current law.

For those of you who (like me, initially) are confused about how this extremely complicated and at times disheartening process works, what happens now is that the Senate needs to pass its own version of the healthcare bill, and then the two houses of Congress must hash out a single version in conference committee. That version needs to be approved by the House and Senate — and 41 House Dems say they won't vote for it unless what Latoya aptly calls the Stupid-Shits Amendment, which would prohibit women who receive government subsidies from buying abortion coverage even with their own money, is removed. As Sargent points out, their language is "unequivocal, with no wiggle room." And Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (video above) pledges that the Stupak Amendment will be gone from the bill when it comes back from committee. Sargent says it will be difficult for the letter's signatories to back away from their position now. He explains,

It will be much tougher for pro-choice Dems to cave and support the bill with Stupak than it was for House progressives to cave and back the bill despite its lack of a robust public option.

Here's why: Because the public option had initially been written off for dead, the version liberals did secure allowed them to claim they had won something. By contrast, Stupak is a significant step backward for advocates of abortion rights and women's health issues. So it will be much tougher for pro-choice House Dems to back a final bill with Stupak in the end.

According to Stephanie Condon of CBS, Pelosi can only afford to lose 40 Democratic votes if she wants the health-care bill to pass, so the 41 signatories to the letter constitute a serious threat. Will that threat be enough to convince the conference committee to soften its line on abortion? Will the 41 Democrats actually kill a healthcare reform bill that would — again, as Latoya pointed out — do many good things, if it fails in this one key area? If Stupak stays in, and the Dems cave, would Obama even sign a bill with such severe abortion restrictions? White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was vague on this point, saying only that "I am not going to become a negotiator on Capitol Hill from the podium" and "We will wait to see what health care reform brings." His failure to denounce the amendment does make it seem like Obama might compromise on abortion to push healthcare reform through. The fate of the final bill is still so uncertain, however, that it's hard to begin the upsetting calculus of whether the compromise would be worth it. Only one thing's for sure — as Sargent says, "This will intensify."

Obtained: In Letter To Pelosi, 41 House Dems Pledge To Vote Against Bill With Anti-Abortion Amendment [The Plum Line]
Wasserman-Schultz: We Will Kill Stupak Amendment [The Plum Line]
Health Care Progress Report: November 9 [CBS]
White House Not Opposing Stupak Amendment [Politico]

Earlier: Reproductive Rights Left Behind After Health Care Bill Passes House