When it comes to how health care legislation deals with the always-contentious abortion issue, Democratic House leadership has concluded that it cannot change the language passed by the Senate, a Democratic aide on the Hill told the Huffington Post.
Officials have not reached any formal decision, the aide cautioned. But the party has determined that the issue can't be touched through reconciliation, which allows lawmakers to deal strictly with budget-affecting policy. The party is now prepared to try and get health care reform through the chamber with the possibility that a number of ardently pro-life members of the caucus will defect in the end.
The possibility remains (indeed, lawmakers are not unconvinced) that a chunk of those pro-life lawmakers -- led by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak -- will end up supporting the final product in the end. Already, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) has announced that he can and will support the Senate's abortion language despite having once been a part of Stupak's group of holdouts.
The Senate's abortion language already is considered highly restrictive by pro-choice advocates. It would require insurers operating in the proposed exchanges to collect separate payments from enrollees who want coverage of abortion procedures. The House language, which Stupak helped write, goes even further, demanding that any insurer participating in the exchange not offer abortion coverage.
House Democrats passed that measure on the eve of their vote to move health care reform through their chamber. It was implicit, however, that they would revisit the issue when the bill went to conference committee with the Senate -- a conference committee that never materialized. Stupak, through it all, has insisted that he will vote against any health care plan that waters the House language down, and predicted that as many as a dozen fellow Democrats will follow his lead.
Democratic leadership was looking for ways to find a compromise between the two bills, with Stupak himself expressing optimism this week that negotiations will be fruitful. Thursday's news that House leadership was giving up hope -- first reported by the Associated Press -- closes the door on those particular conversations.
That said, there have been other suggestions for addressing Stupak's concerns. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.) a leading abortion rights advocate, told the Huffington Post that one practical approach would be to pass legislation outside the health care bill, that applied current law to any exchanges or additional structures set up through reform
"I think the best ways to deal with it is to just have a reiteration of current law," Boxer said. "So for me, if that's where everyone is at, and I would take them at their word that they don't want to change any of the laws, then there's a very simple way to do it. Just reiterate the facts. And if we can do that and do that in a colloquy, that's fine."
"A reiteration of current law can be done in a colloquy, it can be done as a statement, it could be done inside the bill, it could be done outside the bill," Boxer added. "But that's what I think. And I just think it makes sense. Everyone claims that's what they want. That's why what has happened has gotten out of hand because we all thought we'd be silent on it and then we got all these ads."