How Important Is Abortion To Health Reform Opponents?

Abortion isn't the main reason most opponents of Democratic health care reform dislike the proposals currently before Congress, Pew finds in a new survey. In fact, only three percent of opponents listed abortion as their main reason for opposing them, though 56 percent of those opponents list abortion as a "major reason" they oppose Democratic reforms.

It's important to note, however, that the House and Senate bills deal with abortion differently, whereas Pew lumped them together, asking respondents why they opposed "the health care proposals being discussed in Congress."

When this poll was taken (Nov. 12-15), the House had passed its bill, which includes Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-MI) pro-life-supported amendment banning federal subsidies from being used to pay premiums for health care plans that cover elective abortions. The Senate Finance Committee had passed a bill that was less restrictive, and now (after the polling) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has unveiled a bill with language similar to that offered in the House by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), which creates an accounting firewall so that subsidy money doesn't pay for abortions but lets women use subsidies to buy plans that do cover them.

Recommended Reading

It can be tough to get an accurate picture of health care opinion on specific issues like this one, simply because the two bills are different.

I suspect that these figures are both indicative and not. Opponents of health reform probably don't talk about abortion that much right now, but they probably will if the merged House/Senate bill (presuming the Senate passes something) includes less restrictive language.

Opponents of Democratic health reform are more conservative than supporters; they're probably more likely to be pro-life as well. They just had a victory with Stupak's inclusion in the House bill, and Reid's Senate bill (while a defeat for them, initially) is still subject to change.

We probably won't know how important abortion is to health reform opponents until they're faced with imminent passage of a final House/Senate bill--ready to go to President Obama's desk--that lets women purchase abortion-covering insurance plans with the help of federal dollars.

At that point, health reform could turn into a debate about abortion pretty quickly.

At the same time, if supporters of health reform are suddenly faced with a final bill that would force women who receive subsidies to buy separate, supplemental (and possibly expensive?) abortion-coverage plans, then we could see support for Democratic reforms deteriorate overnight.

Until one of those things happens, however, it's hard to know with much scientific certainty.