Despite the intensity of recent debates over abortion coverage in health care legislation, relatively few Americans say they oppose the bills before Congress because of the issue.
Only three percent of Americans raised the issue of government-funded abortions as the main reason why they oppose the health proposals currently before Congress, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that allowed for open-ended responses. At the top of the list were complaints that the bills are too expensive/will increase deficit and taxes (27 percent) and allow too much government involvement in health care (27 percent).
Moreover, when respondents were given a list of five possible reasons why they oppose the health care bills, only eight percent picked "government money might pay for abortions" as the main reason. Most of the respondents expressed concern about big government (38 percent), high cost (27 percent), and the impact of reform on their own coverage (14 percent).
Though abortion coverage may not be the main reason why Americans oppose the proposals, Pew noted that 56 percent of health reform opponents cite the abortion issue as one of the major factors for their disapproval. Even so, the abortion issue ranked below other major reasons including coverage for illegal immigrants (67 percent).
Of the religious groups polled, evangelical Protestants (74 percent) and white Catholics (72 percent) were particularly likely to say abortion funding was a major reason for their opposition. However, these groups also cited the expansion of government involvement as a major factor.
Only 10 percent of white evangelical Protestants picked the abortion issue as the most important reason why they oppose the bills when given a list. And when asked an open-ended question, only four percent of white evangelical Protestants volunteered abortion as the biggest factor in their position.
The Pew Research poll, conducted Nov. 12-15, was released Thursday – the day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled the new $848 billion health care overhaul package.
In the Senate version, there is no language comparable to the House's Stupak-Pitts amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion in public and private health plans.
Instead, Reid proposed a "firewall" that would separate private premiums from federal funding if the public plan offered abortion coverage, according to The Washington Post.
National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson called the Senate provision "completely unacceptable" and said the language would lead to coverage of abortion in demand.
Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, meanwhile, said: "Clearly the straightforward language of the Stupak-Pitts amendment is not what Senator Reid and his pro-abortion colleagues want."
Reid is expected to call for a vote Saturday morning to bring the 2,074-page bill to the Senate floor for debate. He will need the vote of all 60 Democratic senators, including the three in his party who are dissatisfied with the abortion language, to move the legislation forward given that all 40 Republican senators are expected to reject the bill.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 42 percent of the public is in favor of the health care proposals in Congress and 39 percent are opposed.