Senior Democrat is 'confident' that Stupak amendment will be stripped

A House Democratic leader said Monday she's “confident” controversial language on abortion will be stripped from a final healthcare bill.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Democrats’ chief deputy whip in the House, said that she and other pro-abortion rights lawmakers would work to strip the amendment included in the House health bill that bars federal funding from subsidizing abortions.

“I am confident that when it comes back from the conference committee that that language won't be there,” Wasserman Schultz said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And I think we're all going to be working very hard, particularly the pro-choice members, to make sure that's the case.”

The amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), won the support of Republicans and dozens of centrist Democrats in the House, but revealed a deep divide in the Democratic caucus over abortion.

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Sixty-four Democrats voted for Stupak’s amendment, without which the House healthcare bill would not have won final passage in a 220-215 vote.

Stupak’s language not only prohibits abortion coverage in the public insurance option included in the House bill. It would also prevent private plans from offering coverage for abortion services if they accept people who are receiving government subsidies.

Allowing the vote represented a major concession by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Stupak and other anti-abortion rights  Democrats who had threatened to oppose the bill. But it came at the cost of angering liberals in the Democratic Caucus.

Abortion-rights supporters called it a “de facto” abortion ban and mounted an intense but unsuccessful lobbying campaign against it.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said Monday she expected a meeting with President Barack Obama next week to press her case against the Stupak amendment. DeGette, the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, circulated a letter with the signatures of 40 other House lawmakers vowing to vote against any conference report that still contains the amendment.

The conference between the House and Senate bills after the upper chamber passes its bill will present an opportunity to strip the Stupak amendment, and liberal Democrats have vowed to work hard to get rid of that language during that stage of the legislation.

“It was extremely painful for me to feel compelled to vote for a bill that contained that kind of restriction on a woman's ability to make her own reproductive choices,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Republicans over the weekend signaled they’d seek similar language in the Senate bill, while several centrist Democrats are already wavering on the bill.

It’s not clear how the abortion debate could impact a final vote in the House on the healthcare bill, but it could be difficult for many of the centrists who supported Stupak’s amendment to vote for a healthcare bill that did not include his language.

In addition, the only Republican who voted for the legislation, Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), said the Stupak amendment cleared the way for him to support the legislation.

But it’s also possible liberals could drop their support for the bill if the language is not changed.