Massachusetts Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley (D) said in a statement on Sunday that she would “reluctantly” support the Senate health overhaul bill (HR 3590) even though it contains new abortion restrictions, a shift from her statements during the primary that she would oppose a bill that went beyond current abortion laws. During the Democratic primary campaign, Coakley was the first candidate to announce opposition to the House’s health reform bill (HR 3962) because of its abortion restrictions.
That announcement initially drew scorn from one of her opponents, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), but he later altered his position clarifying that he voted for the House bill with the antiabortion-rights amendment to move the legislation along and that he would oppose a final bill with similar restrictions (Samuelson, Christian Science Monitor, 12/21). As the Dec. 8 primary approached, Coakley used the issue of abortion as a fundraising tool (CongressDaily, 12/21).
As recently as last week, Coakley said in an interview that she would not vote for a health care bill that imposes tighter abortion regulations, calling those restrictions “related to an agenda that others have, many of whom aren’t interested in health care reform.” In her statement Sunday, Coakley expressed regret that the Senate bill omits a public insurance option and allows states to bar insurance plans that offer abortion coverage from insurance exchanges. “It is a reminder that the battle for a public option and choice goes on,” she said (Viser, Boston Globe, 12/22).
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Coakley is “heavily favored” in the Jan. 19 race against state Sen. Scott Brown (R) (Christian Science Monitor, 12/21). The Senate could reconvene on the same day as the Massachusetts Senate election, meaning the winner could cast a vote on a final health care bill (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 12/21). According to the Monitor, Coakley’s stance in favor of the Senate bill could be motivated by an unwillingness to be the sole Democratic senator to oppose the legislation, since all Senate Democrats appear likely to vote for the chamber’s bill (Christian Science Monitor, 12/21). Brown opposes the Senate bill and supports some restrictions on abortion funding (Boston Globe, 12/22).
Coakley, Brown Spar Over Abortion Issues at Forum
During a recent forum, Brown attacked Coakley for switching her stance in support of the Senate bill, saying that “[d]uring the primary, [she] basically took a principled position” but has “already abandoned that position.” Brown also noted that he supports abortion rights. He said he favors strong parental rights and opposes abortion late in pregnancy, which he said Coakley supports — prompting Coakley to say that Brown misstated her position on the issue. Coakley said that she supports late abortion in cases in which a woman’s health or life is in jeopardy. The forum also featured libertarian candidate Joseph Kennedy, who is not related to former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Sen. Kennedy’s death in August left the Senate seat vacant. Joseph Kennedy said he opposes the health care bill but supports abortion rights (LeBlanc, AP/Boston Globe, 12/22).
Globe Editorial Praises Coakley Position
While Coakley’s “position on health care legislation and abortion rights has not been a model of consistency,” she deserves praise for ultimately supporting the Senate bill, a Globe editorial states. Coakley “should be commended for making this commitment now, rather than either refusing to support the bill or keeping everyone guessing until the Jan. 19 election,” the editorial says. The editorial notes that despite the abortion restrictions, the bill provides insurance for millions of women and prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums based on gender
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