President Obama torn between promises to abortion foes and supporters on health care

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama


President Obama’s statement that more work is needed on the place of abortion in the health care bill has caused concern that he intends to undermine the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion from the bill.

Speaking to ABC News on Monday, President Obama said that the legislation is “a health care bill, not an abortion bill.”

"And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions,” he continued. “And I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made in that same speech was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change.”

Saying there are “strong feelings” on both sides, the president said there needs to be “some more work” before lawmakers can be assured they are “not changing the status quo.”

President Obama’s comments on insurance echo the concerns of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who on Saturday told her supporters that the Stupak Amendment could eliminate private health insurance coverage of abortion.

PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times’ fact-checking site, explored the claim of U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who likewise leveled the claim that the Stupak Amendment puts new restrictions on abortion coverage in the private market.

According to PolitiFact, her claim is “misleading” because the amendment does not affect the entire private health insurance market but only the health insurance “exchanges” for those who do not already have coverage through their employer or a government program.

This exchange would serve “at most a small fraction of Americans.”

The charge that abortion coverage would be restricted for those who pay premiums with their own money, in PolitiFact’s view, was an even more significant “misrepresentation.”

“The amendment says that individuals buying insurance on the exchange may still purchase coverage that includes abortions as long as no federal money is used,” PolitiFact reports. “The people who would truly pay all of the premium with their own money -- and who would not use federal subsidies at all -- are not barred in any way from obtaining abortion coverage, even if they obtain their insurance from the federally administered health exchange.”

Some criticisms of the Stupak Amendment suggest its restrictions are “more severe and widespread than they actually are.”

PolitiFact did report that a stronger case can be made that the Stupak Amendment creates enough financial obstacles against offering abortion coverage that insurers may offer a single plan that excludes abortion coverage.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said that the Stupak Amendment is the only thing preventing the health care bill from being “an abortion bill.”

“The phoniness of Obama's claim that he has been trying to preserve the 'status quo' on abortion policy should be evident to any observer by now,” Johnson argued. “In reality, the White House and top Democratic congressional leaders have been working hard to create a national federal government health plan that would fund abortion on demand, just as Obama promised Planned Parenthood."

The president has a record of statements supporting federal funding for abortion.

In a July 17, 2007 speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, he said that reproductive care is “essential care.” He proposed a public health care plan that all those who do not have health insurance can access.

“It'll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services," he said, using a common generic term which often includes abortion.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is rallying its supporters. A Nov. 8 e-mail alert from the group said that President Obama campaigned on “a promise to put reproductive health care at the center of his reform plan.”

The organization urged its supporters to send the president e-mails to tell him “Now it’s time for you to make good on that commitment.”