Obama: Abortion Funding Not Main Focus of Health Reform

President Obama on Tuesday said he would "rather not wade into" the issue of whether or not health care reform should include federal funding for abortions.

The president told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric that he is "not trying to micro-manage what benefits are covered."

"I'm pro-choice, but I think we also have the tradition in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care," he said, adding: "My main focus is making sure that people have options of high quality care at the lowest possible price."

A contingent of Democrats and Republicans who oppose abortion rights have rankled congressional leadership with complaints that there is a so-called "hidden abortion mandate" in health care legislation.

As legislation in the House and the Senate is currently drafted, either the Secretary of Health and Human Services or a panel of experts would be responsible for defining an "essential benefits package."

While there is nothing in either bill requiring the benefits package to include abortion services, anti-abortion Democrats and Republicans suggest that will be the final outcome. Subsequently, they are requesting the explicit exclusion of abortion services from any government-defined or funded insurance plans.

On Wednesday, House Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan and Republican Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, the co-chairmen of the Pro-Life Caucus, will hold a press conference on the so-called "abortion mandate." Later in the day, Stupak will discuss the issue on CBSNews.com's Washington Unplugged.

Stupak was one of 19 Democrats who sent a letter to Pelosi in late June, calling the issue a deal-breaker.

"We cannot support any health care reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan," the letter said. "Without an explicit exclusion, abortion could be included in a government subsidized health care plan under general health care."

The letter cites research from the Guttmacher Policy Review, a leading abortion rights research organization, that finds "that about one third of women who would have had an abortion if support were available carried their pregnancies to term when the abortion fund was unavailable."

The Guttmacher Institute also provides research showing that, in 2002, more than 86 percent of employment-based insurance plans routinely covered abortions. So ostensibly, if no federal dollars were allowed to fund abortion, many women could end up losing benefits they currently have. Medicaid funds are already prohibited from funding abortions.

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