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National Abortion Debate At Heart Of Mass. Senate Debate

BOSTON — The most passionate part of Wednesday night’s Senate debate was also the most prone to hyperbole. It centered on the health care reform bill that passed in the House with the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that restricts access to abortion.

Both Congressman Michael Capuano and Attorney General Martha Coakley went so far as to say that passing a final bill with a similar provision would be like banning abortion.

“My position on health care is quite clear. I voted for it in the House,” Capuano said. “There are things that, if they are in the final bill, I will not vote for it. I will not vote to send poor women back to the alleys of America.”

Coakley agreed with Capuano.

“I think that’s a real potential with the amendment that did pass, the Stupak-Pitts, and in looking at what the effect of it was going to be, as a practical matter,” she said. “It said that anyone who wanted to sell insurance in the exchange in that bill could not even offer reproductive health services, even if women wanted to buy it with their own funds.”

According to Planned Parenthood, the amendment means millions of women would lose private health care coverage for abortion services. But it would not make abortion illegal, as Capuano and Coakley imply by saying poor women seeking abortions would be sent to the “back alleys.”

That term stems from a time when abortion was a dangerous and illegal procedure. But National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neil said there is no hyperbole in the term.

“The operation of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment would be that it will choke off the entire private market for private insurance companies to even offer insurance for abortion care,” O’Neil said. “Meaning the insurance companies won’t bother with it because they would be tied up in piano wire.”

O’Neil said if insurance companies won’t pay for it, few providers would offer it.

This issue may very well come before the candidate who wins the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. In Washington, a Democratic Senator is expected to unveil Thursday an anti-abortion amendment to the Senate’s health care bill, which is very similar to Stupak-Pitts.

During Wednesday night’s debate, Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagluica said he would support universal health care even with a provision restricting abortion coverage.

“We have 17 million women that are not insured, don’t have prenatal care, no kind of care. There are 44 to 45,000 deaths because people don’t have care and a lot of those are women dying,” Pagliuca cited. “So this is not about back alleys, this is about funding.”

For City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, it’s about getting everyone covered.

“Look, I think the real issue is: How do we get universal health care done?” Khazei asked. “How do we make sure that we can bring the costs down?”

Democrats need 60 votes in the Senate to pass health care reform and no vote is being taken for granted. So the new senator from Massachusetts will play a crucial role in the debate.

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