Associated Press

September 4, 1997

Senate Forbids Medicaid Abortions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Abortion-rights advocates are complaining that the poor would be hurt by Senate-approved language forbidding the fast-growing managed-care industry from performing Medicaid abortions.

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: ``This action stands in stark contrast to the original intent of the federal Medicaid program by further marginalizing poor women and erecting barriers to equal health care for all.''

The Senate approved the provision by voice vote with almost no debate -- reflecting that the language was a compromise worked out by lawmakers on both sides of the issue. The House plans to consider it later this week, like the Senate attaching it to a bill financing the Department of Health and Human Services and several other agencies for the coming fiscal year.

The language, sponsored by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., prohibits states from using either federal or state money under the Medicaid program to purchase managed-care packages that include abortion coverage. Exceptions would be allowed for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or when the woman's life is in danger.

With those same exceptions, Congress has prohibited most federally financed abortions for two decades. The Ashcroft provision for the first time spells out that the stricture applies to managed care, which states are using to cover 40 percent of low-income Americans under Medicaid.

Currently, two-thirds of managed-care plans cover abortion services, Michelman said.

States would still be allowed to use their own money to provide abortions, as long as it was not under Medicaid.

Ashcroft's amendment was passed the same day the House debated a measure cutting off federal money to family-planning organizations that perform or sponsor abortions anywhere in the world.