The Senate voted Wednesday to ban almost all federally financed abortions provided by the rapidly growing managed-care industry. The compromise measure was immediately attacked by abortion rights groups, who said it would jeopardize access to the procedure by the poor.
The provision, sponsored by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., was approved by voice vote with almost no debate after being worked out behind the scenes.
The House is expected to consider the measure later this week. In both chambers, the ban is part of a bill financing the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The provision forbids states to use money from the federal-state Medicaid program to purchase managed-care packages that include abortion coverage. Exceptions would be allowed for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or when the woman’s life is in danger.
With those same exceptions, Congress has prohibited most federally financed abortions for two decades. The Ashcroft provision for the first time spells out that the stricture applies to managed care, which states are using to cover 40 percent of low-income Americans under Medicaid.
“It is cheaper for an HMO for a person to have an abortion than if that person delivers a child,” Ashcroft said, referring to health maintenance organizations. “Therefore, there would be a profit incentive on behalf of the HMO to urge people to move toward abortions. I do not want that sort of potential to exist.”
Abortion rights advocates said the new language would make it harder for states to provide abortions for the poor by forcing officials to create separate bureaucracies for Medicaid.
“These new restrictions are dangerous and unnecessary,” Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said. “Today’s action takes those restrictions one step further by placing a new burden on states who use their own money to provide low-income women with needed abortion funding.”