Up-or-down vote on an amendment to block abortion funding approved

House Democratic leaders will allow an up-or-down vote on an amendment blocking any money in its healthcare overhaul from funding abortions, risking the votes of members who support abortion rights.

Anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) had told a bleary-eyed Rules committee panel that a deal struck earlier in the day to move forward on the issue was off.

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“There was some compromise language from different proposals that we thought would be satisfactory, our understanding was that we had an agreement. Two hours later it was not an agreement,” Stupak said as the clock neared 1 a.m. Saturday.

Stupak, flanked by a bipartisan coterie of abortion opponents, argued for consideration of their amendment that explicitiy prohibits federal funding of abortions under the Democrats' healthcare bill before the Speaker's select committee.

Liberals on the committee threatened to vote against the final healthcare bill if it included Stupak’s language, warning that it would be a return to the days of back-alley abortions.

“I forsee a return to the dark ages,” said Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). “I’m 73, I’ve seen these dark things, they use these coat hangers and die.”

Committee Vice-Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) presided over the panel while Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) hunkered down with Democratic leadership.

The three women committee members refrained from voting on the rule that was approved 6-4.

Slaughter, Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Chellie Pingree (Maine) were not present for the debate on Stupak's amendment.

“I used to think that life was black or white, but the older I get the most gray it becomes,” liberal Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told the panelists.

“I find this amendment very, very uncomfortable.”

Freshman Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) responded that their amendment would not change the law on abortion.

“This doesn’t change the law at all, it’s not outlawing abortion today; a majority of abortions are paid for with cash,” she said.

But abortion-rights advocates, including the Speaker and a majority of the Democratic caucus, support a provision in the healthcare bill that would subsidize abortions for poor women who can’t afford them.

The agreement was quickly condemned by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which called the amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) a "de facto abortion ban."
 
"A vote for Rep. Stupak’s amendment is a vote to weaken women’s access to comprehensive reproductive care and to take away private benefits that women currently have," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.
 
On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said passing Stupak's legislation could jeopardize passage of the bill, because abortion-rights supporters were likely to vote against a bill that includes it.