Health reform implementation

Healthcare repeal effort will bring abortion debate to the forefront

An intense debate on federal funding for abortions is
expected to begin shortly as Congress resumes debate on repealing the
healthcare law.

The House is scheduled to vote on a repeal bill next week,
after a one-week hiatus following last weekend’s shooting in Tucson that left
six people dead and gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have since called for the political
rhetoric to be toned down, but a looming showdown over abortion may make that
especially difficult.

{mosads}If anything, the issue may have become even more divisive
over the past week after the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute released
a report saying a steady decline in U.S. abortions between 1990 and 2005
appears to have stalled while incidents of harassment against providers are on
the rise. Anti-abortion rights groups immediately blamed the growing use of
abortion drugs such as RU-486, while Planned Parenthood argued for improved
access to contraception.

The abortion issue is almost certain to come up as the
House takes up the repeal bill because lawmakers will also vote to adopt a
resolution instructing congressional committees to draft replacement
legislation. That resolution specifies that the effort should include
“provisions that … prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and provide
conscience protections for health care providers.”

Democrats say the healthcare bill signed into law last
year already prohibits taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions, but
Republicans and anti-abortion advocates say the bill’s restrictions aren’t
strong enough.

Next week’s resolution is seen by pro-abortion rights
groups as an invitation for lawmakers to craft anti-abortion rights bills.

“It seems clear to us that the new House leadership is
threatening a whole series of attacks on reproductive rights, to begin next
week,” NARAL Pro-Choice Policy Director Donna Crane told The Hill.

She said Republicans are going beyond any mandate they won
from voters in the midterm elections.

“The American public thought they were voting for an
agenda that included a better economy and more jobs, and apparently what
they’re going to get is two abortion votes a week,” she said.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the new chairman of the Energy
and Commerce Committee, promised quick action on the abortion front during a
recent appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We are going to take up early … language [that says] ‘no
funds shall be spent on abortion’ as a separate bill early on,” Upton said. 

Anti-abortion rights advocates are counting on it.

“We made abortion funding the defining issue in the
elections,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
She said abortion provisions are the “most egregious issue” with the new law.

After repeal, the anti-abortion rights group has two top
priorities related to the healthcare law.

One is a prohibition on taxpayer support for abortion
providers under Title X family planning grants. The legislation, introduced
Jan. 7 by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), targets Planned Parenthood; defeating it is
a top priority for NARAL. The bill would “cripple family planning services –
not necessarily abortion services but contraceptive services in this country,”
Crane said.

SBA’s other priority is a multi-pronged abortion funding
ban sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). The
legislation was introduced last year but has not been introduced so far this

The bill incorporates an amendment, sponsored by Reps. Joe
Pitts (R-Penn.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) during the reform debate, prohibiting
federal funds from being used “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of
the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.”

Anti-abortion advocates, she said, will make a determined
push for the legislation when they descend on the capital on Jan. 24 for their
annual March for Life marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe
vs. Wade decision.

Dannenfelser said the Smith-Lipinski bill would “absolutely
resolve” the SBA’s concerns with the healthcare reform bill. But that doesn’t
leave off the hook lawmakers, such as Lipinski, who say they’ll vote against

“Anybody who votes against repeal is saying there’s no
problem regarding abortion in the bill,” Dannenfelser told The Hill. “When you
know you’ve got a chance to do the right thing, you don’t put it off.”

The bill goes further than the Pitts-Stupak amendment,
earning it the nickname “Stupak on steroids.” One of its provisions would
codify a rider, reauthorized every year, that protects healthcare entities from
having to perform medical procedures – such as abortions – that they don’t
morally agree with.

The issue could be a tough one for centrist Democrats
facing tough re-election races in 2012. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bob Casey
(D-Pa.), for example, wrote to President Obama soon after his inauguration to
protest his administration’s plans to revisit a Bush-era regulation on the

“We believe it is very important that federally funded
health care providers and entities not be discriminated against because the
refuse to participate in procedures or activities which are a violation of
their consciences,” the senators’ letter says.

Crane said NARAL doesn’t object to conscience protections
that are “narrowly crafted” and “apply to individuals who have legitimate
conscience issues.” However, she said the annual rider goes too far by
exempting entire health plans and healthcare systems that get federal Medicare
and Medicaid funding from having to provide abortion services, contraception or
even referrals and counseling.

“It’s not our belief that people should be forced to provide
medical services that they oppose,” Crane said. “It is our belief that women
deserve the services that are appropriate and legal in this country, and that
medical corporations have an obligation to provide them.”

Tags Bob Casey

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