The sparring over abortion Wednesday underscored the sweep of the health legislation, which not only makes fundamental changes to a key segment of the U.S. economy, but also inflames passions on a range of social issues.
The legislation sets up subsidies for lower-income people to buy insurance and makes the subsidies subject to existing limits on federal funding of abortion. Those limits, enacted annually in routine government spending bills, bar the use of federal funds, except in cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother. Under the Baucus bill, private health plans would be required to prevent federal insurance subsidies from mingling with any private funds used for abortions.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) said the limits in the current law could easily lapse. He called on Mr. Baucus to fold the language into the health bill, making it permanent law. “Let’s codify it,” he said.
Abortion-rights supporters said the rights of women were in danger. “This is not maintaining the status quo,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.). “It is a major, major change, and a poison pill.”
The Hatch amendment failed 13-10 on a mostly party-line vote. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) joined Democrats in opposing it, while Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota was the lone Democrat in favor.
The panel also rejected an amendment Mr. Hatch said was needed to ensure the government doesn’t discriminate against health-care providers who refuse to perform abortion procedures for moral or religious reasons.