Abortion Rights Activists Say Stupak-Pitts Amendment Would Hurt Women's Rights

Amendment in health care bill would prohibit federal funding for abortions.

November 9, 2009, 1:19 PM

Nov. 9, 2009 — -- An amendment included in the House health care bill passed this weekend promising to restrict federal funding for abortions has reignited a fiery debate on one of the most controversial issues in the country.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment, passed in a 240-194 vote Saturday with the notable support of 64 Democrats, adds language to the health care bill that would, if passed by the Senate, heavily restrict federal funding for abortion procedures.

According to the amendment, no government funds under the new health care plan could go toward the payment for an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or when a mother's life is in danger.

Those individuals who would receive a government subsidy for health care under the plan -- any four-person family making $88,000 a year or less -- would also be prohibited from buying an insurance plan that covers abortions.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., one of the amendment's co-authors and an abortion rights opponent, has argued that he does not believe the provision will "curb a woman's right to choose."

But abortion rights advocates disagree.

"We think that this new amendment is an unacceptable addition to the health care bill and if enacted it will result in women losing the benefits they have today," Laurie Rubiner, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood, told ABCNews.com.

Rubiner believes that should this amendment pass, private insurance companies that would want to be part of the health care exchange would stop covering abortions to make their policies available to the greatest number of customers.

"Most people in the exchange will be subsidized," said Rubiner. "That's where all the business will be so insurance companies aren't going to offer the coverage [for abortions]."

"You're talking about people who are paying their own money or are minimally subsidized by the federal government, and they will be prevented from purchasing insurance that supports abortion," said Rubiner.

Health Care Bill's Abortion Amendment Causes Stir

Some Congressional abortion rights supporters have already vowed to keep Stupak's amendment from being a part of the final legislation that ultimately reaches President Obama's desk.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, said in a statement that the restrictions the amendment would place on a woman's right to choose "sets a terrible precedent and marks a significant step backwards."

"The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women's ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled," DeGette wrote in a letter to house Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women's right to choose any further than current law."

DeGette has since garnered more than 40 signatures from House Democrats promising to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment.

"There's going to be a firestorm here," she told the Washington Post.

Degette, who has asked White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for a meeting with the president, is not releasing the names of her signatories until she is done circulating the letter among House colleagues.

But some Democrats say it will be hard to make the bill more liberal as it makes its way through the Senate.

"Getting it stripped out of conference is going to be, I think, incredibly difficult. You don't start your battle after the bill is passed," liberal blogger Jane Hamsher warned on ABCNews.com's "Top Line" today.

"[Rep.] Bart Stupak started [his push to get the abortion amendment in the bill] on July 1; he was successful. Everybody else was sort of asleep at the wheel," Hamsher said. "I mean, bottom line, Democrats really don't want to take on the choice issue. They do not want to spend the political capital. They want to keep their big tent large."

But even as democratic opposition emerges to challenge the amendment, some anti-abortion activists called the House vote a tell-tale sign of the nation's feelings toward abortion.

"What we say in the final vote is that there is a bi-partisan, pro-life majority in the House and that does reflect what Americans are feeling right now," said Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life Action.

Currently, the federal Medicaid program bans the funding of abortions in all cases other than incest, in cases of rape and life endangerment. However, many states use state funds to pay for abortions.

"[Some democrats] believe abortion is health care but America does not," said Yoest. "There may be a division in the country over abortion in general but there is a definite agreement that abortion is not health care and that federal policy should not be changed to subsidize abortion."

According to the Guttmacher Institute and Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, the average cost of a nonhospital abortion was $523 in 2001.

Medicaid Bans Most Federal Abortion Funding

Donna Brazile, an ABC News political contributor, said on "This Week" that the vote on health care will "not be a pretty vote for many pro-choice Democrats."

"This pretty much outlaws abortion for even people with private insurance," Brazile said. "This is an onerous burden on women for their reproductive health care. And I hope that they can get it removed in the Senate and also in conference."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, political pundit Rachel Maddow called the amendment a "poison pill" in the health care bill that will be difficult for progressives and liberals to swallow.

Calling the Stupak-Pitts amendment "the biggest restriction on abortion funding since the Hyde Amendment," which was first passed more than three-decades ago, Maddow warned to expect "Democratic women to sit on their hands at least if not revolt" if it isn't removed from the bill.

ABC News' Rick Klein and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.

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