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Harkin: Stupak’s abortion amendment is slippery slope
A last-minute amendment to the health care reform bill that passed the U.S. House on Saturday is disruptive to the current ban on federal funding for abortion services and could lead down a slippery slope that prevents women from accessing services with their own money as well, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said Tuesday.
“You have to be a little bit careful here because the way the … amendment is written, it can now be taken to other steps. For example, every health insurance company in America could now lose some of its tax benefits that it gets for providing health insurance if it provides abortion services. You can take this on down. You could just say that anybody that got a federal loan for housing could not get an abortion. You can take this and just keep going on and on and on with no end in sight,” Harkin said.
The language inserted in the House came by way of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which prohibits abortion coverage for any health insurance product subsidized in any way by the federal government. As it is written, the bill dictates that any person seeking insurance is barred from purchasing abortion coverage, even if the premium for such insurance is paid out-of-pocket, if the person receives any government assistance.
“I just fear that the House-passed language goes far beyond [previous restrictions] and will effectively prevent women from receiving abortion coverage under the new health exchanges even if they are using their own money to buy insurance,” Harkin said. “I think that is unfortunate and goes too far. So, we will be addressing this issue before [the Senate bill] goes to the floor. My hope is that we can strike the appropriate balance.”
Harkin said his personal preference, and the one he believed all lawmakers had agreed upon prior to the introduction of this amendment, was maintenance of a nearly three-decade agreement that barred use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of incest, rape and life of the mother.
“I think keeping the status quo is the best thing we can do,” he said. “I think it has worked well over the past 20-some years, and I see no reason to change it at this point.”
The Democratic senator from Cumming, who serves as chairman for the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee, did stop short of saying he would vote against a reform bill in the Senate that included language similar to what was in the House version.
“I’m willing to work with my fellow senators, and my refrain is going to be, ‘Don’t upset the apple cart.’ Right now, I believe everyone in our country — except, let’s face it, some fringe groups — like what we have right now. It works well. We have conscience clauses. We provide no federal funding for abortions anywhere except for incest, rape and life of the mother. I think time has shown that these provisions work well. I see no reason to go beyond that now and to let maybe one fringe group or the other upset our whole health care bill because they want to change what has been an accepted law and practice for the past almost 30 years,” he said.
Although every Republican member of the U.S. House voted in favor of the amendment to further restrict abortion access, only one Republican ended up crossing the aisle to vote for the whole reform bill.
“I think that there are a lot of people, and I think you’ll see this in the Senate debate, who want to vote for amendments and will never vote for the bill,” Harkin said, and noted that within the HELP Committee more than 200 Republican amendments were considered, and 161 adopted, yet no Republican member could find a way to vote for the committee’s final bill.
“I think it will become clear that those who are doing these things aren’t just amending the bill to make it better or to try to make it work better. They want to kill the bill. Period. Republicans have said that repeatedly. They want to kill this bill. They want to stop Obama. They want to stop these changes.”