An aborted deal?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009; 9:49 AM

It was initially reported as just another Washington compromise, a backroom bargain that brought health-care reform back from the brink.

It also turned out to be a ticking time bomb.

Nancy Pelosi was a few votes short, so she won over conservative and moderate Democrats -- 64 of them, to be precise -- with language that restricts abortion funding under Obamacare.

The amendment, offered by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, bans abortion coverage in any public-option plan and -- this is the key point -- any private plan that accepts people who are using federal subsidies to buy policies.

Perhaps the reason the early coverage was muted is the expectation, shared by journalists, that the amendment would be dropped in the inevitable House-Senate conference, if the legislation gets that far.

But the liberal side is furious, and the dispute has really blown up.

Exhibit A: Terry O'Neill, who heads the National Organization for Women, told ABC that Obama should not achieve his health insurance goal "by pushing women back into the back alleys to die."

Federal funding for abortions has long been prohibited; this extends even to international aid. The argument has always been that taxpayers opposed to abortion shouldn't have to subsidize a practice they find morally abhorrent. The Democrats' original plan was simply to maintain the status quo.

But opponents felt they would be indirectly subsidizing abortion if the government helped people buy even private coverage. That two-step argument may seem like a stretch, but this is obviously an emotional subject, not a debate over pork-barrel projects where you can easily split the difference.

Now the Senate has to try to untangle these threads, along with all the other unresolved differences with the House, in an environment where you need to get 60 votes.

Politico says there are broader implications:

"The sudden spasm of intense debate over abortion on Capitol Hill this week threatens not only to stall the passage of health care legislation, but also to shatter the delicate cease-fire that has governed the abortion issue during the Obama era.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company