Gibbs: Obama not taking sides in Stupak amendment debate

The White House on Monday signaled it would keep its distance in the increasingly vocal debate over whether health insurance reform should include language related to abortion.

When asked whether the president supported Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) amendment to prohibit the public insurance plan from covering abortion services, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dodged the question -- multiple times.

"Well, ask me that right before Christmas and the end of the New Year," Gibbs said during today's press briefing, noting the president still expected to sign a healthcare bill before the year's end.

The press secretary later clarified, "We will work on this and continue to seek consensus and common ground."

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The debate over abortion adds a new albeit expected layer of complexity to the ongoing healthcare debate. As evidenced by Saturday's vote, a number of House Democrats would not have supported their leadership's final bill if it did not contain such strict abortion language, which also prevents recipients of healthcare tax credits from spending their federal assistance on abortion services.

However, a number of liberal-leaning Democrats have since insisted they will not lend their votes to any conference report that contains even a variation of Stupak's efforts -- a position that puts the Democratic leadership in quite a political bind.

"I would expect that we would go over to the White House next week -- and we're going to tell the president the same thing we're telling the speaker," Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) told MSNBC earlier today, reaffirming her opposition to the amendment.

"A large group of us are saying that if this language is contained in the conference report, then we will not vote for the conference report," she added. "So it needs to be stripped out in the conference."

But Gibbs on Monday offered little insight into whether the president would meet with pro-life or pro-choice House members in the coming days, much less where Obama -- who emphasized his pro-choice positions on the campaign trail in 2008 -- might ultimately side in the new debate.

"I'm going to leave it at the earlier answer that we're going to continue to work through and make progress on these issues," he repeated to reporters.

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