Abortion Debate Roils Final Health Care Push


WASHINGTON — The Senate health care bill contains sweeping new restrictions on abortion coverage and defunds Planned Parenthood, setting up a complicated fight that could potentially imperil its passage.

Under the Better Care Reconciliation Act released by Republicans on Thursday, insurance plans that customers can buy on the individual market with tax credits would be banned from covering abortion services, with exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. The House bill contained a similar provision.

The Senate bill also cuts off funding next year to Planned Parenthood, which is already barred from receiving federal money for abortion but is reimbursed by Medicaid for providing other health services.

The ongoing policy standoff contains echoes of Obamacare’s passage in 2009 and 2010, which featured a series of negotiations to bring pro-life Democrats on board who were concerned that the bill’s new subsidies could be used to fund abortion.

“It was a huge flashpoint which almost killed the bill in the House and Senate in 2010,” John McDonough, a public health professor at Harvard who was a Senate aide at the time, told NBC News. “That fight is erupting again.”

Pro-choice groups immediately condemned the bill, which would cause private insurers who participate in the health care exchanges to drop abortion coverage en masse.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue decried the legislation as “a savage attack on women’s healthcare.”

Making matters more complicated, blue states like California and New York currently require insurers to cover abortion. Unless the states changed their laws to comply, the House and Senate bills would potentially block subsidies for all insurance plans on the individual market.

IMAGE: Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, to unveil a new gun legislation proposal.