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Pagliuca Tries To Set Himself Apart On Health Care

Steve Pagliuca is trying to set himself apart from Martha Coakley and Mike Capuano on health care. He held a press conference to say that all Democrats seeking the open Senate seat from Massachusetts should support health care reform unequivocally.

He accused Capuano and Coakley of not passing that test. Both of them have said that if the health care legislation comes out of the Congressional process with a prohibition on federal funding for health plans that cover abortions, they will vote against it.

Pagliuca criticized Coakley for saying that this abortion versus health care debate is a false dilemma, because the legislation that will eventually emerge from a conference committee, should the Senate pass health care reform, will be stripped of the kind of anti-abortion language now attached to the House legislation.

But moments later, Pagliuca conceded that the Democratic Congress would probably not allow any strong anti-abortion language to remain in the health care law.

There's been a ban on federal funding of abortions for years. But Massachusetts has gotten around that ban by paying for 100 percent of the cost of abortion coverage under Medicaid with state money.

The language in the House health care bill, tacked on by an amendment offered by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, prohibits federal money from supporting any plan that covers abortions. Planned Parenthood says under the proposal, federal money could not go to Medicaid in Massachusetts, because it covers abortions, albeit with state money.

Abortion rights activists also worry that the language would prohibit the use of federal funds for any plan in the Massachusetts Connector, the exchange where people can buy health insurance where the insurance premiums are subsidized.

Capuano took exception to Pagliuca's comments, pointing out that he, Capuano, is the only one of the four Democratic candidates for the Senate seat to actually have voted to keep the ball rolling on health care.

Pagliuca is trying to make this issue a defining one. Will voters buy it?

In 2002, Mitt Romney beat Shannon O'Brien after O'Brien supported a teenager's right to have an abortion without consulting her parents.

By trying to portray himself as less dogmatic on the issue of public funding for abortions than his rivals, could Pagliuca be making a pitch to those same socially and fiscally conservative Democrats who voted for Mitt Romney?

This program aired on November 19, 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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