Political Diagnosis: More on Abortion and Health Care Reform and “Third Way” Pregnancy Prevention Legislation

By Christine |

With President Obama less than an hour away from addressing the nation to allay the concerns of skeptics and build public support for health care reform, we’ve been reading some troubling accounts of whether coverage for abortion services will be included in the proposed public insurance option, which is prefered by Obama and many who say it’s necessary for reform.

In a wide-ranging health care discussion Tuesday night with Katie Couric, Obama discussed abortion coverage:

Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?

President Obama: What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we’re still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

Over at The American Prospect, Dana Goldstein writes in response that Obama is referencing the Hyde Amendment, which Obama said he opposed when he was a presidential candidate.

“[W]hile none of the health reform bills in Congress threaten Hyde, reproductive health advocates have been trying for decades to repeal the ban,” writes Goldstein. “By deferring to this ‘tradition,’ Obama seems to be signaling that he could support a public plan that excludes abortion coverage.”

Under the current Hyde provisions, federal funding under Medicaid is allowed under some circumstances: rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that centrist House Democrats have proposed a “compromise” over federal funding for abortions.

Saying they are “increasingly concerned about potential roadblocks around the issue of abortion” in Congress’ health-care debate, abortion opponent Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and four other Democrats propose “a common-ground solution” that would neither require nor ban private insurers from covering the procedure as long as federal funds are not used, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also signed by Reps. Dale Kildee (Mich.), James Langevin (R.I.), Artur Davis (Ala.) and Kendrick Meek (Fla.).

The lawmakers say that their proposal “maintains the current status quo in the private market” and would not “preempt constitutionally permissible state laws” governing notification requirements and other restrictions on obtaining an abortion.

“Now it is imperative that we reach some consensus on the issue of abortion in health care reform, so that we can move this critical legislation forward,” the lawmakers wrote.

And in a separate story published this afternoon, WaPo’s Dan Eggens and Rob Stein explain more about the conflict and how it may affect bipartisan legislation that’s expected to be introduced this week aimed at  encouraging pregnancy prevention along with improved government support for young mothers.

The measure from Ryan, who opposes abortion, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who supports abortion rights, has attracted an unusual array of supporters ranging from Planned Parenthood to evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Joel Hunter of Orlando. [...]

The prevention bill being proposed by Ryan and DeLauro would establish a series of new and expanded initiatives focused on contraceptives and other prevention measures, including expansion of Medicaid coverage for family planning services. The bill, which was drafted by the centrist advocacy group Third Way, also includes a series of grants and policies aimed at helping young mothers, including expanded maternity care options and more financial assistance for adoptions.

Backers say the Ryan-DeLauro bill has been carefully scrubbed for months to remove policies that might alienate either side, such as financial support for the morning-after pill. Hunter, senior pastor of Orlando’s Northland megachurch, said the proposal “isn’t going to end the disagreement or the alarm that comes up on both sides. But I think it is the first of its kind to take such an incendiary culture-war issue and really make progress. It’s a start.”

“The Ryan approach represents the politics of the future on abortion,” said Rachel Laser, Third Way’s culture program director.

Update: Here’s a this-just-in action alert from National Women’s Health Network:

There are reports that compromise discussions are taking place right now in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would single out abortion services for onerous restrictions. This could result not only in extending existing abortion restrictions, but also in taking abortion coverage away from women who currently have it. Now is a critical time to speak out and let Congress know that reproductive health care is basic health care for women and must be treated like any other type of health care.

We must tell House members that women want health care reform that includes the comprehensive care that we need throughout our lives. Tell them also that politicians shouldn’t be making the decisions about what’s included in a health benefits package. If your Representative is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, it’s especially important that you take action immediately! (Click here to see a list of Energy and Commerce Committee members, and here to find the name and contact information for your Representative.) Please cc nwhn@nwhn.org so that we know how many of you have taken action for quality, affordable health care that meets women’s health needs.

Plus: And for the latest in health care statistics … a new Gallup poll says 1 in 6 adults are now without health insurance: “The current percentage of uninsured Americans (16.0%) represents a small, but measurable increase over last year. Hispanic Americans, at a rate approaching triple the national average, are the most likely subset of the population to be uninsured. Those making less than $36,000 per year are the second-most-likely group to be uninsured, with 18- to 29-year-olds following closely behind.”

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