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Democrats Divided Over Abortion Funding in Health Reform

(AP / CBS)
The moderate Blue Dog Democrats and a group of freshmen Democrats have already rankled the House leadership with their objections to the chamber's health care reform bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leaders in the reform effort have one more contingent to deal with. Democrats who oppose abortion rights are more vocally raising objections to what they call a "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." Democrats and Republicans opposed to abortion rights have requested the explicit exclusion of abortion services from that benefits package so that taxpayer dollars will not fund abortions.

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'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 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 services, many women could lose benefits they currently have.