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Why Pro-Life Democrats Changed Their Minds on Healthcare Reform

One of the most unpredictable aspects of the healthcare reform debate was the position of pro-life Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan. Nearly a dozen representatives supported the health insurance legislation that originally passed the House of Representatives in November. However, they were leery of passing the Senate’s bill, because they thought the language against abortion coverage wasn’t strict enough.

The House’s bill expressly prevented any of the affordable health insurance options participating in the federally subsidized exchange market from offering coverage of abortion. The Senate bill–which the House was voting on yesterday–does not directly fund the procedure, but allows plans to offer it if that portion of funds was clearly separated from the subsidy and paid for solely with private money. Stupak and others were skeptical of its effectiveness, but President Obama agreed to sign an executive order reiterating current law. The Hyde Amendment was passed in the 1970s, and prevents government funding of elective abortions. Stupak would like further statutory language, but the issue cannot be dealt with through reconciliation.

While this compromise satisfied pro-life Democrats, Republicans railed against it. They pointed out that executive orders can be revoked by either Congress or the President at any time. One of them even heckled Stupak on the House floor, calling him a “baby killer”. Nevertheless, the anti-abortion Dems pressed on, and pushed the bill over the top in support.

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