THE WHITE HOUSE SPEAKS ON ABORTION AND HEALTH REFORM.

Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, White House budget chief Peter Orzag was asked whether abortion services should be covered in a public insurance plan. He was noncommittal:

CHRIS WALLACE: Are you prepared to say that in a government, public-funded, taxpayer-funded public health insurance plan, that no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions?

PETER ORSZAG: I think that that will wind up being part of the debate. I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.

WALLACE: So you're not prepared to rule out...

ORSZAG: I'm not prepared to rule it out.

Up to this point, the administration has avoided discussing this issue directly, despite increasingly frenzied congressional debate on abortion's place in health reform. During President Obama's July 1 health-care “town hall” event in Annandale, Virginia, the topic of women’s health care never came up; the White House had preselected many of the audience questions. In a March interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, chief White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes -- who once sat on the board of Planned Parenthood -- claimed she had never spoken to the president about whether or not abortion services should be covered under a universal health-care system. “We haven't proposed a specifics benefits package or a particular health-care proposal, so we're going to be engaging with Congress to have this conversation,” she said.

Of course, the White House's entire strategy for health reform has been to leave the details of coverage and financing to Congress, in an attempt to avoid the pitfalls Bill and Hillary Clinton ran into in 1993, when they presented lawmakers with a highly specific health plan. The current health-reform bills in the House and Senate expand Medicaid coverage without eliminating the Hyde Amendment, which has banned Medicaid-financed abortion since 1976. And the bills allow the health and human services secretary to determine whether abortion and family planning are covered by other public and private health insurance plans.

In 1993, however, Hillary Clinton was clear that public health insurance should cover abortion -- despite Hyde. "It will include pregnancy-related services, and that will include abortion as insurance policies currently do,” she told the Senate Finance Committee that September. We still haven't seen a statement that strong from the Obama administration. But when it comes to health reform, the issue of abortion is now firmly on the table.

--Dana Goldstein

More on reproductive rights and health reform:
--Playing the Abortion Card
--What is the GOP's Goal on Abortion and Health Reform?

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