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Health-Care Reform Efforts Marred by Abortion Dispute

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Adam Sonfield, a senior policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan reproductive health research group, said such a solution will "probably disappoint a lot of people on both sides, but it's probably something that people on both sides can live with."

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The prevention bill being proposed by Ryan and DeLauro would establish a series of new and expanded initiatives focused on contraceptives and other prevention measures, including expansion of Medicaid coverage for family planning services. The bill, which was drafted by the centrist advocacy group Third Way, also includes a series of grants and policies aimed at helping young mothers, including expanded maternity care options and more financial assistance for adoptions.

Backers say the Ryan-DeLauro bill has been carefully scrubbed for months to remove policies that might alienate either side, such as financial support for the morning-after pill. Hunter, senior pastor of Orlando's Northland megachurch, said the proposal "isn't going to end the disagreement or the alarm that comes up on both sides. But I think it is the first of its kind to take such an incendiary culture-war issue and really make progress. It's a start."

"The Ryan approach represents the politics of the future on abortion," said Rachel Laser, Third Way's culture program director.

But Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, argues that the bill would effectively subsidize abortion providers by increasing funding for family planning services and would "further encourage promiscuous sex."

Ryan, who opposes abortion but has come under attack from some antiabortion groups for supporting the use of contraceptives, said he remains hopeful that the bill will help calm the current dispute over how to address the procedure in health-care legislation. "I'm hopeful this will spill over into the health-care debate and encourage both sides to find common ground there as well," Ryan said in an interview.

The White House has not endorsed any specific legislation on reducing abortions. But Melody Barnes, Obama's domestic policy adviser, said in an interview that the Ryan-DeLauro proposal represents "a very positive development." She also said the administration, which has been holding meetings between advocates on both sides of the abortion debate throughout the summer, expects to issue its own package of proposals later in the year.

"The president started this process with the desire to find common ground and to work with people across the political spectrum," Barnes said, adding: "The bottom line is to put concrete ideas on the table."

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The Government's Approach on Abortion

Since 1976, Congress has annually approved the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. The measure prevents federal Medicaid funding from being used to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Some states, however, use state funds to pay for procedures in other cases for poor women.

Similar measures bar the use of federal funds for abortion in other ways, such as for women in the military, in federal prisons, receiving care through the Indian Health Service and those relying on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Abortion opponents are concerned that health reform legislation pending in Congress would nullify the Hyde Amendment and other measures, as well as require private health insurance and any public health insurance programs to pay for abortion. Currently, insurers are neither required nor barred from paying for abortions.

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