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Abortion issue could unravel House healthcare reform bill

Rep. Bart Stupak wants to make sure no public healthcare funds pay for abortions – and he says he has the votes to block the House bill. Abortion-rights activists seek to keep healthcare reform bills 'abortion neutral.'

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Rep. Lois Capps (D) of Santa Barbara held a healthcare forum at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California on September 2.

Rod Rolle/Sipa Press/Newscom

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The House is gearing up for floor action on healthcare reform as early as this weekend. But before that can take place, an impasse within the Democratic caucus over abortion – and its place in the healthcare reform legislation – must be resolved. Otherwise, the whole bill could go down.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan is leading the charge among anti-abortion Democrats, who want to amend the bill to strengthen its prohibitions against the use of federal funds for abortions.

Congressman Stupak has said he has 40 Democratic votes in his camp, just enough to keep the bill from reaching the minimum 218 votes needed for a majority. He has not released all the names, but some have appeared in letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for consideration of an anti-abortion amendment to the legislation.

In a statement released by the congressman’s office Tuesday afternoon, Stupak said: “I have had some serious conversations over the past few days with the White House and House leadership and I will continue to make every attempt to resolve the issue of public funding for abortion. However, there is no agreement and I will oppose bringing the bill to the floor until an amendment can be offered or language agreed to that will prevent public funding for abortion.”

Stupak is in Michigan this week, following the death of his mother-in-law over the weekend, a development that could complicate negotiations. But his press secretary, Michelle Begnoche, says he is “still keeping an eye on things” and “having conversations” from Michigan.

Currently, a federal law known as the Hyde Amendment already prevents the federal funding of abortion. In the drafting of health reform legislation, members of Congress worked to keep the reform “abortion neutral.”

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