WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's health care bill would change federal policy on abortion, but it would not open the spigot of taxpayer dollars as some abortion opponents fear.
Major antiabortion groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee say the Senate provisions expected to come before the House shortly are a back-door taxpayer subsidy for abortion. Other abortion opponents disagree.
"I actually think the Senate bill will more effectively prohibit federal funds from going to abortion," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington. "That legislation will actually reduce the demand for abortion."
Abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America oppose the limits on abortion contained in the House and Senate versions of the health care bill.
Here's a look at a simmering conflict:
What are some of the differences between the House and Senate bills?
Both bills would set up a new health insurance marketplace for small businesses and people buying coverage on their own, with government subsidies.
Here's the key difference: The House provision would prohibit health plans receiving subsidies from covering abortions, except as allowed by the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
The Senate language would allow the plans to cover abortion with private funds collected directly from policyholders and held in separate accounts, away from any public money. But people who don't want to pay for others' abortions wouldn't be forced to do so, they could simply pick a plan that doesn't cover it.
What are the odds that health plans that don't cover abortion would be available?
There would definitely be a demand for them, and not just from people with moral objections.
Single men and older women would have no reason to pay an extra premium for abortion coverage.
Abortion coverage is now widely available through workplace health plans, but many women who have abortions pay out of pocket instead of using their insurance.
Any chance the disputes can be worked out?
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., sounds optimistic. "The president says he doesn't want to expand or restrict current law (on abortion). Neither do I," he said. "I think we can get there."