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Some Pushback on Abortion Compromise

Two days ago, pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin and four other Democrats - with mixed views on abortion - sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi worried that abortion politics could derail health care reform.

Republicans, seizing on an opportunity to sink President Obama's health care push, have suggested that reform packages making their way through Congress could lead to a sort of stealth federal funding of abortion. Current law forbids federal funding of abortion, expect for extraordinary circumstances.

Langevin et. al suggested a compromise that would essentially maintain the status quo: private insurers participating in proposed health care exchanges could choose whether to provide abortion coverage, as they do now, and no federal money would go towards abortions.

The proposal has won over some pro-choice advocates. Susan Yolen, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Rhode Island, said the group does not want the abortion debate to derail health care reform. And the group, she said, will be satisfied if women emerge from health care reform with the same access to abortion that they had before. "I think the letter, you know, tries to reflect that," she said.

But there is some grumbling in the lefty blogosphere, here and here and here, about the approach the letter suggests. Some progressives don't want an endorsement of a status quo that limits funding of abortion.

Much of the grumbling is directed not at Langevin and the other Congressmen, but at President Obama, who suggested in a recent interview with Katie Couric that any health reform avoid a change in federal abortion policy.

As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

Smart politics. And with so much at stake, it says here, the lefty critique will remain marginal. Here's a statement from Langevin's office:

Health care reform remains one of Congressman Langevin's top priorities. As a pro-life Democrat, he has always looked for common ground on the issue of abortion. He will continue to do just that so they can reach mutual areas of agreement and finally provide the health care that every American deserves.

Keep in mind that a compromise may not make either side 100 percent happy, but if we find something most people can live with, then we can advance the larger reform effort. Some in Congress want an outright ban on any abortion coverage, even by private insurance companies, while others want to require such coverage and allow for federal funding of abortions. Mr. Langevin's proposal falls in the middle and is intended to be a moderate, common-sense approach to essentially maintain the status quo and let the health care debate move forward.

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