Panel rejects Hatch's abortion amendments

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A Senate committee debating health reform Wednesday rejected two abortion-related amendments offered by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Democrats argued their bill already ensured that federal funds won't pay for abortions and adequately protects doctors who oppose the procedure from discrimination. But Hatch says the bill doesn't go far enough. Both amendments failed on 13-10 votes, but the Utah Republican isn't giving up.

"I will fight tooth and nail," Hatch said after the vote, "to make sure, once this bill gets to the floor, it is clear in the language that taxpayers' dollars will not be used to fund abortions through the new programs nor through subsidies created in the bill."

His amendment would bar federal funds from paying for part of any plan that covers abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother. In effect, this would mean abortions could not be covered by any insurance offered through the planned health-insurance exchanges. Women who wanted that coverage would have to buy supplemental insurance.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she found the amendment "offensive" and "extreme."

"This is an unprecedented restriction," she said, "on people who pay for their own health care insurance."

The bill, as debated in the Senate Finance Committee, continues the standing federal practice in which taxpayer money cannot fund standard abortions. Instead, the measure would require private insurers offering to cover this procedure to create separate bank accounts. One account would include taxpayer money, the other would include premiums collected by patients. Abortions could be funded only from premiums.

Hatch said the bill doesn't make this separation of money ironclad and expects that the funds may be mingled.

But Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., disputes that.

"No federal funds for abortion," he said. "Period."

Baucus also said his goal is to make health reform neutral on the abortion question.

"Basically, this is a health-care bill," he said. "This is not an abortion bill, and we are not changing current law."

The second Hatch amendment would have strengthened existing conscience laws that protect doctors, hospitals and insurers who oppose abortion from discrimination.