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One of the more interesting twists in health care reform came on a recent vote in the House of Representatives on abortion coverage.
An amendment restricting abortion coverage authored by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, won the votes of all Republicans and 64 Democrats to become part of the health care reform bill passed by the House on Saturday. His measure further tightened rules about how insurers could offer abortion coverage, requiring them to offer separate policies in many instances. (Read our detailed explanation of the Stupak amendment here .)
Abortion rights advocates should not have been surprised, said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from California, on the MSNBC show Morning Joe .
Sanchez, who favors abortion rights, said that "progressives are really angry" because they believe poor women should have the choice to get an abortion if they want one.
"On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that the House of Representatives is not a majority prochoice," Sanchez said. "And I've told that to a lot of pro-choice groups. I would count maybe about 150 prochoice votes. You need 218 to get to pass a bill."
We wanted to know if Sanchez was correct that "the House of Representatives is not majority prochoice."
We first turned to an organization that favors abortion rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America rates members of Congress and has compiled its own profile of the current Congress. It labeled 185 members "prochoice."
Then we turned to the National Right to Life Committee, a group that opposes abortion. It doesn't rate the entire Congress in the same way, but the group has rated four abortion votes during the current Congress and created percentage ratings for each member. A 100 percent rating means a member fully agreed with the positions of National Right to Life; a 0 percent rating means they did not agree at all.
We crunched the numbers, looking for members who never voted with the position of National Right to Life -- 185, the same as NARAL's "prochoice" members.
Other numbers tend to support Sanchez's conclusion, but they also reveal the complexity of the issue and the fact that every member doesn't fall neatly into a yes-or-no category. NARAL labeled 203 members "antichoice." National Right to Life gave only 179 members 100 percent ratings.
NARAL labeled 47 members "mixed choice," while National Right to Life found that 71 members voted with the group some of the time.
So do those numbers add up to the conclusion that there isn't a "prochoice majority" in the House?
NARAL spokesman Ted Miller agreed with Sanchez's comments. "It is accurate to state that antichoice lawmakers outnumber our prochoice allies," Miller said in an e-mail interview. "While the numbers are challenging, we have managed to win some key votes this session (family-planning vote and lifting D.C. abortion ban) by gaining support from some mixed- and even antichoice members."
National Right to Life spokesman Douglas Johnson, on the other hand, downplayed the idea that antiabortion sentiment is growing in the House. His side does win some votes, he said, and the Stupak amendment was "the clearest vote on abortion that we've had in the current Congress." But he doubts that Congress would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade , a major precedent establishing abortion rights.
"If you had a vote in the House on whether or not to overturn Roe vs. Wade , I believe that the majority would affirm that they would support it," Johnson said.
In fact, a few members of Congress who voted for the Stupak amendment otherwise receive low ratings from National Right to Life. We counted 34 members who voted with the group on Stupak's amendment but against it on other issues.
Indeed, the Stupak amendment represents a classic gray area: The measure does not forbid insurers from covering abortion, but it requires them to offer separate policies for people who pay for plans with their own money (as opposed to those who pay part of their premiums with government subsidies). Those who favor abortion rights say this will discourage insurers from offering coverage that includes abortion, and perhaps it will. But that's a business decision on the part of the insurers, not a government prohibition. We should add here that the Stupak amendment might not make it to the final bill, once the Senate considers its own version of health care reform.
Getting back to Sanchez's statement: She said, "the House of Representatives is not a majority prochoice." Her claim is supported by counts from both sides that show only 185 members are solidly in favor of abortion rights. It's worth noting that the number of antiabortion House members is less than a majority, too. But as for Sanchez's claim, she is right. We rate her claim True.
U.S. House of Representatives, roll call on Stupak amendment , Nov. 7, 2009
NARAL ProChoice America, Choice Composition of the 111th Congress
National Right to Life Committee, Federal NRLC Scorecard - 111th Congress, Combined Sessions
Gallup Poll, U.S. Abortion Attitudes Closely Divided , Aug. 4, 2009
PollingReport.com, abortion polls , accessed Nov. 11, 2009
FiveThirtyEight.com, Many Previously Pro-Choice Dems Voted for Stupak Amendment , Nov. 9, 2009
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