Community Health Center Reauthorization Bill Held Up over Abortion Language
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) is refusing to schedule a vote on a bill (HR 3450) that would renew authority for community health centers until Congress votes on a bill (HR 4691) that would allow federal funds to go to hospitals and insurance plans that refuse to offer or cover abortion procedures, Reuters Health reports (Rovner, Reuters Health, 9/4). In December 2001, Armey added language to the community health center bill that would have permitted hospitals and health insurance companies to adopt a "conscience clause," which would allow them to opt out of providing abortion services on religious or moral grounds. After abortion-rights supporters in the House warned that the measure would fail if the language remained, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.) pulled the entire bill (Eilperin, Washington Post, 12/21/01).
Although Armey has "insisted" that Congress and President Bush approve the abortion-related bill, which was introduced earlier this year, before Congress considers the community health bill, he has not yet scheduled it for a House vote. The Senate in April passed the community health bill without the conscience clause language. Abortion-rights supporters say that the conscience clause legislation is "too broad" and could "threaten women's health" by permitting facilities to refuse abortion procedures even to protect the life or health of a woman. National Association of Community Health Centers officials have "accus[ed]" Armey of "threatening" the country's community health programs by linking the bill to abortion-related legislation. According to an Armey spokesperson, Armey "strongly supports" the community health centers bill and anticipates "work[ing] out an amicable solution" with House committee leaders (Reuters Health, 9/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.