UPDATE: In an interview with ABC News's Jake Tapper, President Obama said he did not support any change in current abortion laws through the health care bill -- an implicit rebuke to the House for passing an amendment that could considerably restrict women's access to abortions. The president said that he doesn't want to change "the status quo" one way or another.
TAPPER: Here's a question a lot of Senate Democrats want to know. You said, when you gave your joint address to Congress, that under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions. This amendment passed Saturday night which not only prohibits abortion coverage in the public option, but also prohibits women who receive subsidies from taking out plans that -- that provide abortion coverage. Does that meet the promise that you set out or does it over reach, does it go too far?
OBAMA: You know, I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill. And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions. And I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made in that same speech was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change. So, you know, this is going to be a complex set of negotiations. I'm confident that we can actually arrive at this place where neither side feels that it's being betrayed. But it's going to take some time.
TAPPER: Do you think that amendment is status quo or does it lean a little bit in one direction or the other?
OBAMA: I think that there are strong feelings on both sides. And what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo. And that's the goal. The goal here is to make sure that people who have health insurance have greater stability and security, people who don't have health insurance get the ability to buy it affordably and that we're driving down costs.
And, you know, I think everybody understands that there's going to be work to be done on the Senate side. It's not going to match up perfectly with the House side. But obviously, it was a historic night for the House. We've never been this far. And I'm very confident that my colleagues in the Senate are going to say to themselves that we've got to get this done.
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EARLIER STORY (2:24 PM ET): Despite pledging during the presidential campaign to protect a woman's right to choose, the Obama White House is refusing to weigh in on an amendment that represents perhaps the most restrictive anti-abortion measure introduced in a generation.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was pressed on four separate occasions to discuss the House of Representatives' passage of legislative language that would restrict a private insurer's right to cover abortions if they received public money -- even from a separate pool. On each occasion, he punted.
"I wish we were having this conversation at the last part of this process but as your network and others have pointed out: there are miles to go before we sleep," said Gibbs.
"Ask me that right before Christmas and the end of the year," he offered at another point.
"I'm not going to get deeply into this except to say we will work on this and continue to seek consensus and common ground," he declared later.
"I'm going to leave it at the earlier answer that we are going to continue to work and make progress," he concluded towards the end of the 45-minute long session.
The evasiveness wasn't unexpected. Gibbs had been pressed for the past several weeks to weigh in on the debate surrounding Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich) now-passed amendment. He never did.
On a broader level, however, the briefing was yet another demonstration of just how little footprint the White House is hoping to leave on the health care debate. The legislative process truly is being left in Congress's hands -- whether on abortion or the public option. The only line in the sand the president has drawn is that the bill not violate his pledge to not tax families earning less than $250,000. Other than that, the Senate and House have been told to find the votes needed for passage and keep moving the ball forward.
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