With Reporting By Ryan Grim
One of Congress's foremost champions of abortion rights said on Monday that the Senate did not have the votes to add a more restrictive anti-abortion amendment to health care reform legislation.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that 60 votes would be needed to strip the current health care bill of its abortion-related language and replace it with a version resembling that passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday. And, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the California Democrat predicted that pro-choice forces in the Senate would keep that from happening.
"If someone wants to offer this very radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long] compromise, then I think at that point they would need to have 60 votes to do it," Boxer said. "And I believe in our Senate we can hold it."
"It is a much more pro-choice Senate than it has been in a long time," she added. "And it is much more pro-choice than the House."
Boxer's reading of the political landscape might seem like the hopeful spin of an abortion-rights defender. But it was seconded by a another lawmaker, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
"It would have to be added," sad the Montana Democrat of an amendment that mirrored that offered Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House. "I doubt it could pass."
Speaking days after House Democrats helped pass the Stupak provision -- which would greatly restrict private insurers from covering abortion -- Boxer and Baucus's proclamations are undoubtedly music to the ears of pro-choice activists. President Obama, likewise, stressed during an interview with ABC News Monday night that he would like to see the Stupak amendment changed before a final version of health care legislation is produced.
In making her argument, Boxer described the provision as inherently prejudiced, as well as bad policy and unfair politics. The Stupak amendment, she said, would deny women access to "a legal medical procedure" even if she agrees to pay for it with private funds (a supplemental policy would have to be purchased to cover abortion).
"It's bad enough on the first count, but on the second count it seems to me very unfair and very discriminatory," she said. "I don't see them picking out anything that a man relies on, any kind of procedure that a man relies on. This is very discriminatory towards women."
She noted that it was predominantly men who were making these policy decisions.
"In all my years in politics, this is what it's been like," Boxer said. "This is the way it is. It always amazes me. The leading voices always, since I've been in Congress, have always been males. And that is one of the reasons why I think it is so important to have more women. Not that every woman is pro-choice. It is not true. But most of the women are."
"And so when I see man after man come down there I just feel, in my heart our of hearts: Why don't you trust women to make this decision? We are deserving of your trust," the senator added.
Currently, the Senate bill's language would allow for insurers participating in a health care exchange to cover abortions so long as they ensured that federal funds are not used to pay for the procedure. An amendment similar to Stupaks' effort -- which was offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) -- had already been voted down in the Senate Finance Committee.
To re-introduce such a provision, Boxer said, 60 senators would be required to cut off debate on the floor. And the votes for that, she said, likely won't materialize.
"If they try to add the language we would try to stop them," she said. "If somebody wants to take it out they are going to need 60 votes to take it out... And my view is that we do have the numbers."
Boxer is slated to meet on Tuesday with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as well as other Democratic women in the Senate to discuss the topic of abortion vis-à-vis health care reform.
"When we sat down to do health care, I thought there was an understanding that we would be abortion-neutral," she said. "In other words we wouldn't change anything on abortion; that federal funds couldn't be used but of course private funds could as long as this was legal. And Roe v. Wade is the law of the land."