Senate Amendment Renews Abortion Debate in Health Bill

A health care bill amendment that the Senate passed Thursday has pro-life groups fretting that the door is again open to the federal funding of abortion.

In a 61-39 vote, the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that mandates coverage of any preventive care or screenings for women by the Health Resource and Services Administration, such as mammograms.

But pro-life groups warned that if the HRSA were to recommend abortion as preventive care, then insurance plans would have to cover the procedure since there is no clear prohibition of such coverage.

"Because today's bill as written has no exclusion for abortion in its language, there is no doubt that Sen. Mikulski's amendment opens the floodgates to massive public underwriting of abortion, a position Planned Parenthood has always favored," commented Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.

"Without the adoption of 'Stupak-Pitts' amendment language in the Senate version of the bill, it's now very clear that taxpayers will be forced to pay for abortions," he contended.

Similarly, the National Right to Life Committee is opposed to the Mikulski amendment because abortion services could be listed under "preventive care" by the HRSA.

"Our concern on this point is not hypothetical," NRLC writes in a letter to Congress. "Prominent pro-abortion advocates are already on record discussing abortion as a category or 'preventive health care.'"

Pro-life groups, such as Americans United for Life, say they strongly support coverage for preventive care, as the Mikulski amendment calls for, but want to see clear language prohibiting abortion from being included in the HRSA list, according to

The Mikulski amendment is the latest point of conflict in a long health care battle over the issue of abortion.

In the House, Democratic lawmakers conceded to include the Stupak amendment in the final version of the health care bill. The Stupak amendment, introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), bars the use of federal funding for "any health plan [public or private] that includes coverage of abortion," except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the woman's life.

In the Senate, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has already declared that he will not support any version of the health care bill unless it contains language similar to the Stupak amendment. Nelson is reportedly working with pro-life Democrats in the House to block federal funding of abortion and plans to introduce a Stupak-like amendment to the Senate bill. On Thursday, he voted against the Mikulski amendment.

Despite the rift over abortion, the Democrats cannot afford to ignore Nelson who holds the key to the 60 votes necessary to win passage of the bill.

"If they're (Democrats) unified, they can do whatever they want, any time they want," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who noted that even though Republicans are unified against the bill they only have 40 votes, according to Bloomberg News. "The reason why this bill isn't moving any faster is because of the intramural fights and disagreements among Democrats."

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