WASHINGTON (BP)--Some of the nation's top pro-life leaders warned Friday that the nation's abortion rate could go up if the House passes the health care bill during an expected Sunday vote.
Their statement came on a day when Democratic House leaders continued to try to find the votes to pass the bill and groups on both sides of the fence contacted undecided representatives who will determine the vote's outcome. For instance, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission personally delivered letters to 104 Democrats Thursday and Friday, urging a "no" vote on the bill and calling the proposal's abortion language "unconscionable."
It figures to be a tight vote. It takes 216 votes in the current House of 431 representatives to pass or defeat a bill, assuming everyone is present. All 178 Republicans are expected to vote against it, which means Democratic leaders must find all 216 votes within their 253-member caucus. Various tallies Friday had Democrats as close as two votes or as far away as a couple dozen in reaching 216.
Pro-life groups spent much of Friday getting their message out and urging their constituents to call their House member.
"The bottom line is current legislation will result in government funding of elective abortion, which will lead, as some experts project, to a 30 percent increase in abortions in America," Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. "This legislation, if passed, will be the largest expansion of abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins agreed.
"Anything that the government offers to pay for, it gets more of. There's no question that you would see an expansion of the abortion rate in America [if the bill passes]," Perkins said during a conference call with reporters.
Richard Doerflinger, a legislative expert with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops will continue to oppose the bill if the abortion language is not changed. He also said the abortion rate could go up.
"There are some who hope that the health care coverage, especially for pregnant women in the bill, might have some positive effect in reducing abortions," Doerflinger said during the conference call. "The reality is this: The biggest factors in the United States driving the abortion rate are poverty and race ... [and] the public policy that has the biggest impact on abortion rates is simply whether the government funds abortions."
The health care bill, pro-lifers say, appropriates $7 billion to the nation's 1,200-plus community health centers without stipulating that the money cannot be used for abortions. The bill also changes longstanding federal policy by allowing tax dollars to go toward paying for insurance plans that cover elective abortions. Congress' own insurance plans, for example, cannot cover abortions. The bill requires that anyone who has a plan that covers abortion -- even men and elderly women -- must pay a separate fee to cover abortion, in addition to their premium.
The Associated Press reported March 5 that the Hyde Amendment -- which prevents Medicaid from covering abortion -- would not apply to the health care bill. (Read a Q&A on abortion and the health care bill here
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said roughly 1 million Americans are "alive today because of the Hyde Amendment." In other words, they weren't aborted. He said the figure is calculated by using data from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which reported last year that about 25 percent of the women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions chose instead to give birth when they were barred from using public money.
"We regard that as one of the great successes of the pro-life movement at the federal level," he said of the 1 million figure.
The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission delivered the letter to the Democratic representatives on behalf of the ERLC's Land. A similar form of the letter also was sent to Republican Majority Leader John Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor.
"The Senate bill explicitly authorizes federal funding of abortion," the letter read. "Under the Senate plan, people are required to pay a premium into a separate abortion account if their insurance plan includes coverage for elective abortion. Among other abortion mandates, the plan requires that individuals in states that choose to opt out of abortion coverage still subsidize abortions in states choosing not to opt out. Abortion funding mandates like these are unconscionable."
The letter urges Democratic leaders to include language sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., that explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion. Stupak's amendment passed the House 240-194 in November but was not included in the bill that passed the Senate -- the same one the House is considering.
"This amendment ... simply applies to health care reform the longstanding Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion, with rare exceptions, under other federally-funded health care programs," the ERLC letter read. "At a minimum, any health care reform bill must include the Stupak protections."
Said Johnson, "The president has often said he wants bipartisan components on health care reform. This [the Stupak amendment] is the most bipartisan thing that's happened during the entire Congress on health care reform."
It's anyone guess if the Democrats will have the votes. FoxNews.com was quoting the Democratic whip as saying there were 214 yes votes and 217 no votes; both tallies included leaners. FireDogLake, a popular liberal blog, had 205 yes votes and 212 no votes (also including leaners). Democrats can withstand only 37 defections from their caucus if health care is to pass, and they were at 36 late in the day. But that tally also included "leaners" and could change over the weekend.
Johnson urged caution when looking at vote counts.
"When you see these statements by the speaker and the White House and so on about how they're this close and that close and they're confident, you have to take that with a heavy grain of salt," Johnson said. "... A lot of these declarations in recent days have been by people whose votes never were in doubt. This is just an attempt to create a perception of momentum. The number who are actually in play are far smaller."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read a Q&A on abortion and the health care bill, click here
. Read the ERLC letter to Boehner and Cantor at http://erlc.com/article/erlc-letter-urges-congress-to-oppose-health-care-bill/. Read National Right to Life's summary of the bill at http://www.nrlc.org/AHC/NRLCToHouseOnHealthBill.pdf. House members can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or through House.gov, where their local office numbers can be found.