By Nicole Gaouette and James Rowley
Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The House voted to restrict the use of federal funds for abortion, limiting access to the procedure for people who use an insurance-purchasing exchange that would be created in pending U.S. health-care legislation.
The 240-194 vote for the amendment included the support of 64 Democrats in addition to Republicans. It came as lawmakers considered a larger bill designed to cover 36 million uninsured Americans and curb rising medical costs.
“I am not writing a new federal abortion policy,” Michigan Representative Bart Stupak, who sponsored the amendment, said in floor debate tonight. The amendment will preserve the “principle of no public funding of abortion and no public funding of insurance policies that pay for abortion.”
Stupak had threatened to join with fellow Democrats to block consideration of his party’s health bill over the issue.
That prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to agree to allow the vote to clear the way for debate on the legislation.
Earlier today, Pelosi predicted her chamber would pass the most sweeping U.S. health-care changes in four decades as President Barack Obama urged Congress to “rise to this moment.”
“We will be making history with our vote,” Pelosi told reporters after she and fellow Democrats met with Obama on Capitol Hill. “We will pass health-care reform.”
Another Battle Looms
Still, a later fight over abortion looms as supporters of abortion rights vowed to oppose any final measure that included the restriction. The Senate is struggling to find consensus on its own plan and later would work with the House on a compromise, if both chambers pass their versions.
The 10-year health-care plan’s $1 trillion price tag and its creation of a government-run program to compete with private health insurers represents the biggest changes to health care since the 1965 creation of the Medicare program for the elderly. It would require Americans to get insurance, set up insurance- purchasing exchanges for people who don’t have employer-provided benefits, and provide subsidies to help people obtain coverage.
Stupak and other anti-abortion Democrats voiced concern that lower-income Americans in the proposed health-insurance exchanges could use federal subsidies to pay for abortions.
On the other side, a coalition of 190 lawmakers who favor access to legal abortion say they would oppose any final measure that makes it harder for women to gain access to the procedure.
Threat to Bill
“This is an issue that emerged, with the potential of bringing down the bill,” said Representative Janice Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, in an interview. If the additional restrictions make it into the final version of the bill, “many of us couldn’t support it at the end of the day,” she said.
“To say that this amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing would be an understatement of a lifetime,” said Colorado Representative Diana DeGette during floor debate. It “will be the greatest restriction of a women’s right to choose” passed by Congress “in our career.”
One Democrat who favors abortion rights, however, Virginia Representative Gerald Connolly, said the Stupak amendment is “not adding new restrictions” and is only “extending existing provisions” to a new government-subsidized program.
“I don’t believe that is an unfair ask for the Pro-Life Caucus,” Connolly told reporters.
The provision -- which would force women who purchase health insurance with a government subsidy to buy a special rider for abortion coverage with their own money -- is no different than the longtime rules for federal government workers, said Connolly, who represents the Virginia suburbs of Washington.
The amendment won’t threaten the vote on the overall health-care measure because many Democrats who favor abortion rights will look at the bigger picture, said California Representative Mike Thompson.
“We all recognize it’s one step closer to providing quality, affordable health care” and “we will move on to the next step,” Thompson said.