The future of the Stupak amendment

THE FUTURE OF THE STUPAK AMENDMENT…. As significant and encouraging as Saturday’s night was on health care reform, the House bill came with a bitter, odious pill: the Stupak/Pitts amendment.

The House Democratic health care plan already restricted use of public funds to pay for abortion services. For opponents of abortion rights, that was insufficient — backed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these lawmakers demanded a provision restricting coverage in both public plans and private plans that receive taxpayer subsidies. For women with insurance through the exchange, the ability to exercise reproductive rights would be dependent on their ability to cover out-of-pocket costs.

The amendment, championed by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), became a painful prerequisite — without it, Dems couldn’t pass the larger bill. Stupak/Pitts was approved, 240 to 194, with 64 Dems joining the Republicans. (A total of 26 center-right Dems voted for Stupak/Pitts, and then against health care reform.)

The fight over this provision, however, is just getting started.

[A]bortion-rights supporters are vowing to strip the amendment out, as the focus turns to the Senate and the conference committee that would resolve differences between the two bills.

Although House liberals voted for the bill with the amendment to keep the process moving forward, Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) said she has collected more than 40 signatures from House Democrats vowing to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment — enough to block passage.

“There’s going to be a firestorm here,” DeGette said. “Women are going to realize that a Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women paying for abortions with their own funds….We’re not going to let this into law.”

The WaPo report also had a good description of the problem with Stupak/Pitts policy: “[A]bortion coverage would be unavailable not only to working-class women buying coverage with government subsidies, but probably also to women buying coverage on the new marketplace without federal assistance. The amendment suggests that women could buy separate ‘riders’ covering abortions, but abortion-rights supporters say it is offensive to require a separate purchase for coverage of a medical procedure that for most women is unexpected.”

For months, the health care debate has centered around a variety of key issues: subsidy rates, mandates, public-private competition, etc. Now, abortion is up front and center, and it will be another needle in need of threading — too many restrictions and pro-choice Dems will be in a position to defeat the bill; too few and opponents of abortion rights are prepared to do the same.