Will the issue of abortion sink health care reform? It seems very possible as pro life Democrats square off against pro choice Democrats in both the House and the Senate over the Stupak provisions in the House bill banning federal funding of elective abortions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was obliged to allow a vote on the anti abortion language to attract enough moderate Democrats to vote for the House version of health care reform. But at least 41 liberal pro choice House members have vowed to oppose any restrictions on abortion in the final version of health care reform that would come out of a House Senate conference. That would be enough to sink health care reform in the House.
However, taking the Stupak anti abortion provisions out of the final health care bill would anger moderate Democrats who supported the Stupak amendment and then voted for the health care reform bill in the House. The vote margin, 220 to 215, was so narrow that the defection of just three House members would also sink health care reform in the House.
In the Senate, at least in the normal form of legislation, it takes sixty votes to cut off debate and move to the passage of a controversial bill. It seems virtually certain that the votes are not there to pass a Senate version of health care reform with restrictions on abortion or without restrictions on abortion.
Senate Democrats could choose reconciliation, or what is called commonly “the nuclear option”, and try to pass health care reform under rules that do not require sixty votes to cut off debate. Besides permanently poisoning whatever comity is left in the Senate, the “nuclear option” has a major problem. Provisions passed under reconciliation only last five years before they have to be renewed by a subsequent Senate. It is unlikely there will be as much support for health care reform in 2014, a midterm election year, as there is now.
The problem is that abortion is one of those intractable issues with very little middle ground. Pro life people believe that abortion constitutes the deliberate murder of an infant, the personification of innocence, in the womb. Pro choice people believe that any attempt to restrict abortion is a violation of a woman’s sovereignty over what happens with her own body.
Exacerbating the rancor is that abortion law in the United States is not based on a vote of Congress or any legislative body of peoples’ representatives. Rather the relatively unrestricted practice of abortion is the law of the land in the United States by Supreme Court fiat, from the 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade case. Pro life people resent, as most people do, being told what must be by nine unelected judges. Pro choice people will fight to the death to defend the rights enshrined by Roe v. Wade.
Abortion is not the only controversy surrounding health care reform. The public option, the tax hikes, the Medicare cuts, the draconian mandates, and the specter of health care rationing and “death panels” combine to make health care reform increasingly unpopular with the public and positively scary for politicians. But abortion may be the tipping point that ends the prospect of government health care for a generation, at least.
Source:Senate faces abortion rights rift, Carrie Budoff Brown & Jonathon Allen, Politico, November 9th, 2009