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With Stupak, Democrats Have the Votes (Confirmed)

The abortion issue isn't going to stop health care reform.

In a late afternoon press conference, Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak and six of his Democratic colleagues announced that they were dropping their objections to the Senate bill, thanks to a new executive order that makes clear taxpayer dollars won't finance abortion services. Instead, the seven Democrats said, they will vote yes when the Senate bill comes up for consideration later tonight. They will also vote against an expected "motion to recommit" by the Republicans, which the GOP could have used to stop a vote from happening today.

With the support of Stupak and his allies, administration and House leadership sources confirm, the Democrats have the votes they need to pass reform tonight.

Stupak himself said the Democrats were "well past 216"--the number that would constitute a majority.

The executive order would seem merely to apply existing law, as codified in the Hyde amendment, to the new insurance exchanges through which individuals and some small businesses will be purchasing coverage. In fact, it's not clear that the executive order actually changes anything: The Senate bill wouldn't have allowed taxpayer funding of abortion anyway.

Then again, it's never been clear--at least to me--why Stupak objected to the Senate bill in the first place.

Be that as it may, Stupak indicated he was proud to vote for a bill that would make health insurance both more available and more protective. His colleague Marcy Kaptur, of Ohio, went further, describing the measure as a "true life bill" because it not only would help reduce abortion, but also improve health care.

She spoke at length about the importance of improving maternal and pediatric care--and noted that, according to a recent study, abortions seemed to decline as people get better access to care. Kaptur said that "never again will any woman have to say she can't continue a pregnancy to term" because she felt she couldn't afford the care.

In response to a reporter's question, Stupak acknowledged that the Conference of Catholic Bishops--who had spear-headed opposition to the Senate bill and whose judgment Stupak repeatedly cited--did not support the deal. But he said that modifying the actual bill to restrict abortion funding further was simply not possible, given the lack of votes for it in the Senate. 

Several other Catholic groups, including the Catholic Health Association, have said they endorse the Senate bill--and that the Catholic Bishops are wrong in their interpretation of the proposal's impact.