This article is republished from Iowa Independent under a partnership between Iowa Independent, the Center for Independent Media and Rewire.
A last-minute amendment to the health care
reform bill that passed the U.S. House on Saturday is disruptive to the
current ban on federal funding for abortion services and could lead
down a slippery slope that prevents women from accessing services with
their own money as well, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (Lauren Victoria Burke/WDCPIX.COM)
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“You have to be a little bit careful here because the way the …
amendment is written, it can now be taken to other steps. For example,
every health insurance company in America could now lose some of its
tax benefits that it gets for providing health insurance if it provides
abortion services. You can take this on down. You could just say that
anybody that got a federal loan for housing could not get an abortion.
You can take this and just keep going on and on and on with no end in
sight,” Harkin said.
The language inserted in the House came by way of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment,
which prohibits abortion coverage for any health insurance product
subsidized in any way by the federal government. As it is written, the
bill dictates that any person seeking insurance is barred from
purchasing abortion coverage, even if the premium for such insurance is
paid out-of-pocket, if the person receives any government assistance.
“I just fear that the House-passed language goes far beyond
[previous restrictions] and will effectively prevent women from
receiving abortion coverage under the new health exchanges even if they
are using their own money to buy insurance,” Harkin said. “I think that
is unfortunate and goes too far. So, we will be addressing this issue
before [the Senate bill] goes to the floor. My hope is that we can
strike the appropriate balance.”
Harkin said his personal preference, and the one he believed all
lawmakers had agreed upon prior to the introduction of this amendment,
was maintenance of a nearly three-decade agreement that barred use of
federal funds for abortion except in cases of incest, rape and life of
“I think keeping the status quo is the best thing we can do,” he
said. “I think it has worked well over the past 20-some years, and I
see no reason to change it at this point.”
The Democratic senator from Cumming, who serves as chairman for the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee,
did stop short of saying he would vote against a reform bill in the
Senate that included language similar to what was in the House version.
“I’m willing to work with my fellow senators, and my refrain is
going to be, ‘Don’t upset the apple cart.’ Right now, I believe
everyone in our country — except, let’s face it, some fringe groups —
like what we have right now. It works well. We have conscience clauses.
We provide no federal funding for abortions anywhere except for incest,
rape and life of the mother. I think time has shown that these
provisions work well. I see no reason to go beyond that now and to let
maybe one fringe group or the other upset our whole health care bill
because they want to change what has been an accepted law and practice
for the past almost 30 years,” he said.
Although every Republican member of the U.S. House voted in favor of
the amendment to further restrict abortion access, only one Republican
ended up crossing the aisle to vote for the whole reform bill.
“I think that there are a lot of people, and I think you’ll see this
in the Senate debate, who want to vote for amendments and will never
vote for the bill,” Harkin said, and noted that within the HELP
Committee more than 200 Republican amendments were considered, and 161
adopted, yet no Republican member could find a way to vote for the
committee’s final bill.
“I think it will become clear that those who are doing these things
aren’t just amending the bill to make it better or to try to make it
work better. They want to kill the bill. Period. Republicans have said
that repeatedly. They want to kill this bill. They want to stop Obama.
They want to stop these changes.”