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Abortion and the health care bills: Let's welcome the debate

The issue of federal funding for abortions -- indeed abortion itself -- can't be ignored. This divisive issue needs legislative solutions, not more court decisions.

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Congress has never really had a full-throated debate over abortion, one that would help find a political truce on a recurring issue that still divides Americans nearly four decades after the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade

No wonder then that the possibility of federal money being used to pay for abortions under the Senate version of healthcare reform might derail its passage in the more abortion-sensitive House. 

About 12 antiabortion Democrats, such as Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, threaten to vote against the Senate bill, even though they voted for the House bill last fall. Their numbers alone could turn other Democrats against President Obama’s campaign for quick passage.

The high court ruling in 1973 defined a right to abortion for women (up to the point of the viability of a fetus/child outside the womb). But Congress has consistently blocked federal money being spent for abortions through the so-called Hyde Amendment. It is the apparent watering down of a similar funding ban in the Senate bill – the one that Mr. Obama wants to push through – that could now force Congress to tackle the broader issues around abortion. 

The funding ban has helped to keep alive debate over abortion, including the question of when life begins and whether government should exert power over personal health decisions. But most lawmakers would prefer to duck a larger debate, preferring instead to defer to the courts to wrestle with such moral issues. 

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