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Following Coakley, Capuano Shifts On Health Care And Abortion

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley faces reporters in Worcester after Coakley said she would have voted against a major health care reform bill because it contained an anti-abortion amendment. (AP)
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley faces reporters in Worcester after Coakley said she would have voted against a major health care reform bill because it contained an anti-abortion amendment. (AP)

There's a new twist in the tussle over health care and abortion between two of the candidates vying to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Congressman Mike Capuano, who voted in favor of the health care bill that passed the House on Saturday, now says he'd reject it in the Senate. That's if the measure still bans using government funds for any health plan that covers abortions.

Capuano said this Tuesday, a day after criticizing Attorney General Martha Coakley for saying she'd have voted against the legislation because of the anti-abortion provision.

At first, it was Coakley who raised questions about her political savvy. She announced that she would have voted against the health care bill in the House. The bill prohibits using government money for any health care plan that funds abortions.

But then Mike Capuano made a surprise announcement. We asked him: Would he vote to kill health care reform if, in the end, it still contains the anti-abortion language?

"The answer is yes," Capuano said, "but that's a false and naive question, because the vote we had on Saturday night was to keep the health care debate alive and to move it to the Senate so that we can work to improve the bill over there as well."

Coakley welcomed Capuano's announcement that he would oppose health care reform if it prohibits abortions. "I believe that that's the right result," Coakley said, "and I would commend Mike for understanding that he should do that."

"I'm not adopting her position," Capuano said. "She said she would have voted no on Saturday, which would have ended the debate. If that's her position, I wouldn't even come close to adopting that."

There's clearly a difference in approach between the two candidates. Coakley said she could not — like Capuano-- vote for something she opposes just to keep the process going.

"I think it's always very difficult to go through a process and vote for things that you don't really believe in with the hope or expectation that you'll be able to change it or clean it up later," Coakley said. "Sometimes that happens. Sometimes that doesn't, but that's if what he did, then that's fine."

"I was asked what I would have done," she said. "I said I would have voted against, because I didn't think that this choice was either necessary or fair and I didn't think you had to sacrifice rights. He's the one who attacked me for saying I didn't understand the process."

"The statements by Martha Coakley and now Mike Capuano have made signaling potential opposition to this health care reform legislation," said venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca, another Democrat running for the Senate. "It's alarming."

Pagliuca said he would vote for the health care bill even if it contains the anti-abortion measure. "Sen. Kennedy, as you know, fought 40 years to get this happen," Pagliuca said, "and two candidates for his seat now are risking the greatest opportunity we've had to make fundamental change in health care."

But Capuano disagrees. He predicts that the anti-abortion language will die before the legislation makes it through Congress. "I do not think that it will survive," Capuano said. "I do not think that it'll get through the Senate, and part of our job is to try to make sure that it doesn't."

Coakley doesn't believe the anti-abortion language will survive either.

The fourth candidate in the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate is City Year founder Alan Khazei. He has said that he would vote for the health care legislation passed by the House. He was unable to get back to us in time for our deadline for this story.

This program aired on November 11, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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