The amendment would strip away abortion coverage in the public insurance option. Moreover, it also would mean that private plans would be prohibited from extending coverage for abortion procedures if they take in patients who get government subsidies. Offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the proposal was backed by 64 Democrat lawmakers whose votes secured passage of the House healthcare bill in a 220-215 vote.
Pelosi felt she had to agree to the compromise as the price of moving the process along. Still, the deal infuriated party liberals who described the momentas a rollback of women's reproductive health. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). declared it to be "simply outrageous." What's more, the decision reportedly caused some female Congresswomen to weep and led to a shouting match between Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro and California Rep. George Miller, an ally of the House Speaker. Traditional allies like
NARAL and Planned Parenthood responded with promises to lobby to rid that language from any Senate bill.
Just in case she wasn't paying close attention, Pelosi was then put on notice by the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus which signed a pledge to vote against any conference report that might still contain the Stupak provision. (For the record, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) the House Democrats' chief deputy whip, doesn't think the Stupak amendment will last through the conference committee stage.)
All of this to the delight of conservatives, who quite enjoyed the spectacle of Democrats at each other's throats. Conservatives argued that the Democrats had brought upon themselves by virtue of their effort to expand government's role in the private market. Here's Philip Klein in the American Spectator.
"Currently, women are able to purchase private health care plans that cover abortion because it remains a legal procedure and we still have a private market for the sale of health insurance. But if the House Democratic health care bill becomes law, individuals will only be allowed to purchase health insurance through a government-run exchange. And because millions of Americans will be using government subsidies to purchase insurance through the exchange, suddenly lawmakers get to have a say on what kind of private insurance policies individuals can purchase."
National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru described the moment as a "tremendous victory for pro-lifers, and the size of the vote actually should occasion some comment about the audacity of the Democratic leadership to try to block the overwhelming will of the House."
Ponnuru's schadenfreude notwithstanding, this doesn't mean that the amendment will necessarily wind up in the final healthcare bill. But if they do strip out the language, the Democratic leadership may then lose the support of the so-called centrists in the Senate like Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) Nelson's spokesman told The Hill that any such maneuver is a deal breaker. A bluff? Wrong question. With the Democrats needing every possible vote in the upper chamber, do they want to risk putting him to the test? Don't forget that Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is already on record saying that he plans to filibuster the bill if it contains a public option. Also, (Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), the only Republican who voted for the healthcare bill, said the Stupak amendment was what allowed him to vote for the legislation.
For his part, President Obama could be talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to paying for abortion. In a video interview with ABC's Jake Tapper, he said that Congress needs to change abortion-related language in the House bill because "this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill." One should note, however that during his September speech to a joint session of Congress Obama said that under the Democrats' plan "no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.")
If he fails to make good on his word - whatever that word turns out to be - you won't need to wait until New Year's Eve to see fireworks.