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Panel OKs End of Funding Ban for Abortions

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that would lift a 17-year ban on Medicaid funding for poor women’s abortions, handing abortion rights forces a rare victory on the issue of public financing.

However, a battle is guaranteed when the measure reaches the Senate floor, where both sides predicted there would be a close vote, possibly next week.

A subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee first stripped House-passed language continuing a ban on Medicaid abortions. The bill then went to the full panel, where abortion opponents did not attempt to restore the ban when it became clear that the votes were not there.

In the subcommittee, there was no debate before senators passed an amendment by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that left a House-passed ban on Medicaid abortions out of the spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. Harkin said there was no battle in the subcommittee because both sides know the final decision will come in the floor vote.

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“I think everyone agreed it’s going to be fought on the floor, and that’s where the votes are going to be cast,” Harkin said.

The Medicaid ban is known as the Hyde Amendment, after Illinois Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde, who has attached it for years to the spending bill that pays for Medicaid.

With a Democrat in the White House, abortion rights forces thought they could keep the Hyde amendment off the bill. But they lost by a surprisingly large margin in the House earlier this summer.

If the funding bill were to pass the Senate without the Hyde amendment, a House-Senate negotiating team would have to work out differences. At present, there are exceptions to the ban when rape, incest or the woman’s life is at stake.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bill aimed at curbing violence at abortion clinics and ensuring access for doctors and women. Critics say there is a danger that it would infringe on protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The so-called clinic access bill would give the Justice Department new powers to go after protesters who threaten or assault clinics, doctors or women. Distributing leaflets and waving signs would still be legal.

Republican-led efforts to amend the bill failed.


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