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Senate Ends Debate on Healthcare with Abortion Restriction

Voting during an unusual 1 am session on Monday morning, the Senate ended debate on the healthcare bill, clearing the way for expected final passage of the bill on Christmas Eve. The 60-40 vote fell along party lines and came after a tense weekend of negotiations with Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). As a result of those talks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Reid Amendment, a 383 page “manager’s amendment,” which includes new language relating to abortion.

Under the new version of the healthcare reform bill, state legislatures will decide whether their insurance exchanges will permit plans that offer abortion coverage. If a state does permit insurance plans that cover abortion services to participate in the exchange, those services must be paid for by private health insurance premiums and not by federal funds.

The new plan, known as the “abortion opt-out” immediately raised protests from pro-choice leaders, who worry that the compromise will result in a de facto abortion ban for women in conservative states. “It is not acceptable to burden women and employers with the chilling requirement of multiple payment structures, creating a condition where participants are less likely to opt for full coverage. And it is unconscionable to allow state-run exchanges to opt out of providing abortion coverage, even when a woman’s life is in danger,” said Kelli Conlin of the National Institute for Reproductive Health in a recent statement.

Despite these concerns, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), two champions of reproductive rights in the Senate, put out a joint statement on the Reid Amendment, saying, “We said all along that we wanted to ensure there was a firewall between private and public funds — this compromise achieves that. We said we would not accept language that prohibited a woman from using her own private funds for her legal reproductive health care – this compromise meets that test.” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), leaders of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, disagreed with their colleagues , declaring that the compromise is “not only offensive to people who believe in choice, but it is also possibly unconstitutional” reported the Washington Post.

Sources:

Washington Post 12/21/09; New York Times 12/19/09; National Institute for Reproductive Health 12/19/09; Reid Amendment