WASHINGTON, March 4, 2010 -- Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., today said he and 11 other House members will not vote for the health care bill unless it includes more stringent language to prevent federal funding from going toward abortion services.
"We're not going to vote for this bill with that kind of language," Stupak told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today, referring to the Senate health care bill, which includes less restrictive language than what the Democratic lawmaker proposed in the House.
Stupak said he is willing to take the criticism that will be hurled at him if he blocks the bill because of the abortion language, but that he won't back down on his principles.
"I want to see health care pass. I agree... people are being priced out of the market. We must have health care but, boy, there are some principles and beliefs that some of us are not going to pass," he said. "We're prepared to take the responsibility. I mean, I've been catching it ever since last fall. Let's face it, I want to see health care. But we're not going to bypass some principles and beliefs that we feel strongly about."
The ongoing abortion debate threatens to stall the health care bill and reflects the deep divide among Democrats. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today said the president would like to see the House pass the health care bill before he departs for his international trip on March 18, but that does include passing the "fixes" that the White House has proposed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., today said that the bill makes no changes to the existing law on abortion.
"There is no change in the access to abortion, no more no less. It is abortion neutral," Pelosi told reporters. "If you believe that there should be no federal funding for abortion, and if you believe that there should be no change in policy... we will pass the bill."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Stephanopoulos on "GMA" that the bill is not about abortion, but about changing the health care system to ease the burden on families and small businesses facing skyrocketing insurance premiums.
"I think the president has made it clear from the outset that the health reform bill should not change the status quo on abortion policy in America. That's not what this about," Sebelius said. "There will be no federal funding for abortions."
"This isn't about abortion debate. It's about health reform," she added.
Proponents of more stringent abortion measures such as Stupak argue that in an insurance exchange, which is part of the health care overhaul bill, the current standing regulations on abortions will not be enough to prevent federal funding from going toward those services.
"We want see a bill. But the bill that they [White House] are using as a vehicle is the Senate bill," Stupak said. "You would find in there the federal government would directly subsidize abortions, plus every enrollee in the Office of Personnel management plan, every enrollee has to pay a minimum of $1 per month toward reproductive rights which includes abortion."
"Give us our language. Let's keep current law: No public funding for abortion."
President Obama's proposal, released last week, builds on the Senate health care bill, which includes less-restrictive language on abortion than the House bill. But those who support the language in the Senate bill and the president's proposal say it maintains the existing law.
"I hope that when the bill is in its final form and people have a chance to look at it, I think they will understand that this bill does not change the status quo on abortion," Sebelius said.
The language in the Senate health care bill restricts the use of public funds for abortion services. But private insurance plans that are offered in the insurance exchange can cover abortion if funds for the procedure are used only from premiums paid by beneficiaries. States have the option of banning coverage in insurance plans brought in insurance marketplaces.
Stupak's amendment, which was part of the House bill but failed in the Senate, limits access to abortions for people who receive federal subsidies and those who purchase insurance through a health insurance exchange, a marketplace where people would be able to shop for and compare insurance plans.
Stupak's more restrictive anti-abortion language passed the House by a vote of 240-194. Senators defeated the anti-abortion amendment 54-45, and that Obama is pushing.
Stupak said the abortion language can be included even through reconciliation, a process which does not require 60 votes but a simple majority of 51 senators to pass.
"You can do it, if there's a will there's a way," he said. "That's just the excuse they're giving."
Can Abortion Issue Derail Health Care Bill?
The issue of abortion has sparked nationwide debate. Anti-abortion groups vigorously oppose the legislation being discussed but groups that favor abortion rights say the House's language would move the federal government into a whole new area of restricting women in the private insurance sector.
Stupak said he talked to the president in September and expressed his concerns about the abortion language. He said he has repeatedly told the Democratic leadership in the House that they have to include the language to garner full support, but has been told that it's hard for the leadership to do that.
The congressman from Michigan does not think there are enough votes in the House to pass the health care bill as it currently stands, and called the Senate bill "totally unacceptable."
"I'm not involved in the head count but they are lucky if they have 150 votes," Stupak told ABCNews.com. "They have to make a lot of improvements in order to get House members to vote for it. Members are not enamored with the process or contents of the bill."
The president on Wednesday launched his final push to get health care legislation passed, indicating a willingness to work with Republicans on some issues but telling Democrats to use Capitol Hill's controversial reconciliation rules to get a bill to his desk if necessary.
"The president is talking about Congress moving again on bills that have already passed," Sebelius said today. "And I think the American public deserve an up or down vote."
"It's urgent... and we need to figure out how to move forward as quickly as possible," she added.
Republicans have been grousing for weeks about the use of reconciliation, saying it shortcuts the process and should not be used for a bill of such importance.
Obama once again dismissed calls from Republicans to scrap the current legislation and start over, arguing that too much time has already been spent on this issue and the differences between the two parties will not be resolved with another year of negotiations and debate.
"[Health care reform] deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority," the president said Wednesday, citing five bills that were passed in the Senate using reconciliation rules.
"For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for another decade or even more," he said. "The American people, and the U.S. economy, just can't wait that long."
The White House's outline for the path to getting a bill passed includes having the House pass the health care reform legislation passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve, as well as a second bill containing "fixes" to that legislation.