Aiming to stop debate over abortion from derailing health care reform, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami is urging Congress to neither require nor ban insurers from providing coverage for abortions.
Though proposed legislation does not mention abortion, some Republicans argue that the proposed overhaul of the health care system could open the door to federal funding of the procedure. Democrats counter that abortion opponents are trying to cook up controversy in an effort to topple the broader reform effort.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, Meek joined four others Democrats in proposing a "common ground solution'' that would maintain the status quo on abortion policy. Specifically, the government would continue to allow insurers to decide whether to offer abortion coverage — most do — and keep federal tax dollars out of it.
"I think it's important that we not let Republicans use this issue to make some sort of political statement and confuse Americans," Meek said Wednesday. "We don't want to find ourselves in a situation where we jeopardize access for women."
Yet the other congressmen who signed the letter have received low marks from abortion rights groups for voting in favor of restrictions. Meek has a perfect voting record on abortion rights, according to the political arms of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
In one key 2005 vote where Meek disagreed with some of the other Democrats who wrote to Pelosi, he favored restoring federal funding to an international family planning agency that serves poor women.
"He does have a 100 percent voting record and that's critical. … But we want to make sure that women are not worse off than they were before health care reform," said Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of Planned Parenthood's Florida chapter. "Our concern is that abortion gets singled out. It is part of reproductive health care. It's an option for women."
Meek said the voting records of the other Democrats urging Pelosi to keep Congress out of the abortion debate are not relevant. The letter was signed by Tim Ryan of Ohio, Dale Kildee of Michigan, James Langevin of Rhode Island and Artur Davis of Alabama.
"Their position as it relates to pro-choice or pro-life is not a major concern to me," Meek said. "I was pro-choice yesterday, and I am pro-choice today."
President Barack Obama has advocated finding common ground on abortion and declined to wade into the sticky debate in Congress that threatens to stall one of his top priorities.
An earlier letter to Pelosi from members of Congress who oppose abortion demanded that it be excluded from any government-backed health care plan. Current law prohibits federal funding of abortions under Medicaid except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
Under the compromise backed by Meek, the federal government would not be able to help low-income women pay for abortion. The letter to Pelosi also says health care reform should not overturn state limits on abortion, such as laws mandating waiting periods and parental consent for minors.
"This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with health care policy," said Meek, the front-running Democrat for an open Senate seat in 2010.
Meek added former Sen. Bob Graham on Wednesday to the list of top elected Democrats who have endorsed his Senate bid. Other Democratic contenders include U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns. The leading Republican candidates are Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami.