- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday defeated two proposals to limit abortion coverage in the emerging health care reform plan.

The proposals from Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, would have restricted public or private health plans that include abortion coverage and would have strengthened protections for health care providers from discrimination if they refuse to provide an abortion.

The provisions are likely to come up again when the bill goes to the Senate floor and could sway the vote of lawmakers who oppose abortion.

Because the government will be facilitating private and possibly public insurance coverage through a government health care exchange, opponents of abortion have raised concern that taxpayers would be funding abortions.

Current law, known as the Hyde amendment, requires annual renew. It bans the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. It requires federal programs, such as Medicaid, to bill patients entirely for any abortion and to keep the patients’ money separate from federal funds.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who is Senate Finance Committee chairman, outlined a similar structure for the private insurance companies that would operate in the newly-established exchange.

“No federal funds will be used for abortion. Period,” he said, adding that he did not want to risk derailing health care reform by changing abortion law.

Exceptions would be maintained for abortions to protect the mother’s life or for pregnancies as a result of rape or abortion.

Mr. Hatch argued that the segregated funding wouldn’t be enough to prevent taxpayers who oppose abortion from funding the measure.

Opponents to abortion want to codify the Hyde amendment so that it doesn’t have to be renewed each year. The Hyde amendment, a compromise that both side of the debate generally can agree on, bans any federal funding for paying for abortions, with exceptions for abortions for the life of the mother or resulting from rape or incest.

Democrats said the amendment would result in women having to apply for a waiver in advance if they want abortion coverage.

“As a woman, I find it offensive,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said. “This is an unprecedented restriction on people who pay for their own health care insurance.”

A second proposal would have banned any local government, agency or health plan from discriminating against health care providers who refuse to perform abortions. It also would have directed the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and investigate discrimination complaints.

Both amendments failed 13-10. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, joined Democrats in opposition. Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, joined Republicans in support.

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