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How Catholic Bishops Threw the Health Care Debate into Turmoil with Anti-Abortion Maneuver

It took a virulently anti-choice measure to pass the House's health care reform legislation. Progressives are strategizing how to keep it from the final bill.

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But in order for Stupak to get a vote for his amendment, Pelosi would need Republican votes for the rule that would allow the amendment to move to the floor. That's when the language of the amendment turned ugly, according to Politico.

Members from heavily Catholic districts wouldn't sign on until the bishops gave their blessing on the language, Republicans wouldn't vote for the rule until the National Right to Life Committee signed off. Pelosi assessed her risk, apparently calculating that the Stupak language would be stripped out of the bill that is eventually sent to the president's desk.

Few were more dismayed by the Stupak amendment than Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a key member of the "whip team" that Pelosi put together as a kind, arm-twisting, cajoling, Dem-whispering corps charged with bringing in the votes of any reluctant colleagues.

At first, DeLauro explained, House leaders thought they might have won a compromise weeks ago with a change to the bill's language offered in the Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., that made it more explicit how public monies would be separated from private dollars used to purchase health coverage through the exchange.

"[Y]ou had pro-life, pro-choice members, come together, forge a compromise -- a very good compromise," DeLauro told AlterNet, "[of] how to deal with the segregation of the funds ..." When the Capps language failed to satisfy the anti-choice contingent led by Stupak, it was "further strengthened, or clarified, if you will, by Congressman Brad Ellsworth.

"Now, that was an excellent compromise -- one, again, that was forged by pro-life, pro-choice members. It didn't come out of the blue. And what happened was is that that compromise -- where we moved for common ground, found it -- wasn't acceptable to Congressman Stupak and to others."

That left House leaders and vote-counter DeLauro in a very tough spot -- either allow the Stupak amendment to come to floor, or almost certainly lose the vote on the health care bill, which was ultimately won by a two-vote margin.

DeLauro voted for the rule that allowed Stupak to come to the floor, while Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., boycotted her own committee's proceedings. DeLauro voted against the amendment when it came up for its vote, delivering a passionate speech from the floor condemning the measure.

Bill Giveth With One Hand, Taketh Away With the Other

In her interview with AlterNet, DeLauro rattled off a number of substantial improvements for women's health care contained in the bill: The proscription on excluding people from coverage will mean no more denial of coverage for such "pre-existing conditions" as being the victim of domestic violence, or a prior pregnancy. Gender discrimination in premium costs is prohibited under the bill.

"Today, women pay 48 percent more for health care coverage than men," DeLauro said. "Very strong for women, a lot to gain here. Now the goal all along, as I said, was to move health care reform. On the issue of abortion in the discussion, that has always been that we maintain current law -- that no public funding is available for abortions services, except the Hyde exceptions."

Michelman told AlterNet: "I agree that there are some positive, positive aspects for women in the bill. However, having said that, any health care reform bill that leaves women, millions of them, worse off in terms of their ability to obtain health care -- necessary health care -- than they were before health care reform is unacceptable. It's wrong!