WASHINGTON — A last-minute deal on abortion appeared to give House of Representatives Democrats fresh confidence that they can pass sweeping health care legislation later Saturday.
As many as 40 anti-abortion Democrats had signaled they might oppose the bill if its current provisions remained. Those provisions would have allowed insurers to separate public and private funds, permitting only the privately collected money to be used for elective abortions.
Public money could have been used only for abortions that result from rape or incest or threaten the life of the mother, which has been federal law since the mid-1970s.
But anti-abortion Democrats objected that the bill still would provide a federal subsidy for insurance plans that allowed abortion. After days of tense talks, they reached agreement early Saturday with Democratic leaders and the White House on an amendment that would refuse abortion coverage to anyone who receives federal aid to buy an insurance policy or enrolls in the proposed government health plan.
The segregated accounts would be gone, though anyone could buy private policies covering abortions using their own funds.
Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were involved in the talks.
Abortion rights advocates were not pleased, as Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called the change "the biggest restriction on a women's right to choose that's been considered on the floor of the House" since she came to Congress in 1997,
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., was pleased. "It's strong," he said of the change. The amendment is expected to win approval later Saturday and the health-care reform is expected to be voted on Saturday night.