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Pro-Life Democrat Harry Reid Says He Could Support Abortion Provision in Health-Care Bill

1:19 PM, Mar 27, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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At a breakfast meeting with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he could vote for a health care bill that included insurance coverage for abortion.

TWS: Senator, progressive Rev. Jim Wallis recently said that including abortion provisions in health care reform would kill health care reform. One, do you agree with that assessment? And, two, will you vote for a health care bill that covers abortion?

Senator Reid: Does what with abortion?

TWS: Covered it--provided insurance coverage for abortion.

Senator Reid: Well, first of all abortion is an important issue, very emotional issue, but we have to recognize that unintended pregnancies is where we should focus our attention. Unintended pregnancies wind up--half of them wind up in abortions, so everything we can do to limit the number of unintended pregnancies helps with the number of abortions. I think that it's very obvious we don't do enough in that regard. I've worked--I don't want to boast, but I think I've been the leader if not one of the leaders in promoting legislation dealing with contraceptives. Hillary Clinton was a tremendous asset in that regard, and it's kind of unusual with someone with my standing about abortion to be awarded in Nevada a legislator of the year award by Planned Parenthood. So I think I'm heading in the right direction.

Reid didn't answer the question directly, so after the meeting concluded, THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked him again if he could support a national health care bill that provided coverage for abortion. "I could," Reid replied.

During his tenure in the Senate, Reid has cast a number of anti-abortion votes. In 2003, Reid voted against an amendment to express the sense of the Senate that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided. As late as February 2008, Reid voted, along with eight other Senate Democrats, in favor of an amendment to prohibit federal funds from paying for abortions.

In 1998, Reid filled out a questionnaire stating that he opposes taxpayer-funding of abortion and thinks abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at stake. So does Reid still believe that abortion should be illegal?

Reid spokesman Jim Manley told me during a phone interview that Senator Reid has not changed his position on abortion since 1998. Senator Reid "is strongly pro-life," Manley said, "and I resent any suggestion to the contrary, and his voting record speaks for himself."Manley implied that abortion coverage provided through a federal health care bill is a non-issue. "There is no such provision being discussed at this time," he said.

Although there is not, to my knowledge, a specific health care bill before the Senate, and thus no amendment dealing with abortion, Planned Parenthood is lobbying for the inclusion of abortion coverage in health care reform. In 2007, Barack Obama said on the campaign trail that his federal health care plan would cover abortion and require private insurance companies to do the same.

During the conversation, Manley suggested that questions about Senator Reid's position on abortion funding are motivated by partisan bias. "You've got your RNC talking points down," he said at one point, and added later: "I won't get into why you're asking the question and the publication you represent." Asked if he thought questions about funding abortion are legitimate, Manley declined to answer.

"I've been doing this for a long time," he said. "What are you--an editorial assistant or something?"