Potential Abortion Compromise Gets Closer Look.

House leadership is still struggling to find a compromise on abortion provisions that could threaten to derail the health-care bill, which they are trying to bring to a vote as early as this weekend. Yesterday, Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, an anti-abortion Democrat, put out his own amendment to try to break the legislative deadlock. While Ellsworth has many of the same concerns as Bart Stupak, the Michigan representative who has threatened to hold up the bill with at least 39 others for not going far enough to prohibit federal funding of abortions. So what is Ellsworth asking for? Here’s the gist of his proposal (abridged for length):

  • Explicitly prevents all federal tax dollars from being used to provide abortions in the public option;
  • Prohibits any funds from the U.S. Treasury from paying for abortion services in any of the plans purchased through the proposed Health Insurance Exchange;
  • Establishes clear, strict rules for separating public funds from the premiums of private individuals;
  • Guarantees every American participating in the Health Insurance Exchange will always have access to a pro-life insurance option;
  • Expands conscience protections to prevent the government from discriminating against pro-life health insurance plans.

Now, what's the difference between the Stupak and Ellsworth proposals?

The current version of the bill requires each state to have one insurer that provides abortion services and one that does not. As I explained earlier this week, Stupak's main problem is that the bill allows insurers who provided abortion services to participate in the exchange, which has participants supported by government subsidies. Stupak would thus categorically prohibit any insurers in the exchange from offering abortion coverage. Meanwhile, Ellsworth's proposal seems to require that the exchanges only have an anti-abortion insurance option, without necessarily guaranteeing an option that provides abortion services.

The reality is that most insurance companies do cover abortion services, making it fairly likely that a pro-choice insurer would be included. But Ellworth's proposal suggests that might not be guaranteed, though outside observers say it won't be entirely clear until the amendment's legislative language is released. The other provisions of Ellsworth's amendment suggest that the public plan would either prohibit any abortion coverage or have the public plan use money from private insurers (i.e. not Treasury's) for such coverage.

The Ellsworth proposal has already attracted criticism from reproductive rights and anti-abortion groups -- though anti-abortion advocates were far more vehement in their attack. While Planned Parenthood said they were "concerned" about the effect of the amendment on women's rights, the National Right to Life Committee called the move "a phony compromise" that is "only intended to wrap the pro-abortion provisions in additional layers of concealment," as Politico reported. Ellsworth has received the green light from the House leadership to try to whip other pro-life Democrats to support his compromise.

While Stupak is "reviewing" Ellsworth's alternative, he is "continuing to hold firm" in supporting his own proposal, Stupak spokesperson Michelle Begnoche said today. But though Stupak might still be willing to compromise, it's unclear whether the House leadership will have the time or patience to keep negotiating with him further. If the Ellsworth alternative manages to strip away enough of Stupak supporters, it could be enough to move the bill forward.

--Suzy Khimm

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