Coakley: ‘Yes’ to health reform bill, even with abortion limits

Democrat Martha Coakley, vying for Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat, issues a tepid endorsement of the Senate health care reform bill backed Monday by all 58 Democratic and two Independent senators. During the primary campaign, she had balked at restrictions on abortion funding.

Charles Krupa/AP
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who recently won the Democratic primary in the race for the US Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy, examines Polartec fabric as it is manufactured in Lawrence, Mass., on Dec. 15.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) – the woman widely presumed to be the Bay State’s next US senator – now says she would support the Senate's healthcare reform bill, legislation she earlier said contained unacceptable restrictions on abortion funding.

Ms. Coakley won the Dec. 8 Democratic primary in the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in the US Senate and is heavily favored to defeat Republican state Sen. Scott Brown in the Jan. 19 general election. Whether she would, indeed, have an opportunity to cast a vote on healthcare reform depends upon how quickly the House and Senate reconcile differences in their respective bills.

In her earlier campaign position, heading into the primary, Coakley had been vocal about her support for abortion rights and repeatedly stated that she would not vote for a healthcare reform bill that restricted funding for abortion services.

“It’s personal with me and it’s personal with every woman who’s in this, who’s watching this,” she said in a Dec. 1 campaign debate. Her position on women’s reproductive rights eventually persuaded her closest Democratic competitor, Rep. Michael Capuano, to change his own position to one that closely mirrored hers.

With Democratic support for the bill crystallizing over the weekend – the Senate leadership mustered all 58 Democrats and two Independents to block a Republican filibuster in the wee hours of Monday morning – it’s also possible that Coakley changed course to avoid being the lone dissenter.

“That potential isolation might have looked unappealing,” says Dan Payne, a Massachusetts-based Democratic media consultant. “She didn’t want to appear to be the only Democrat in the Senate to oppose the healthcare reform bill.”

According to a statement released by her campaign Sunday, Coakley is reluctantly supporting the Senate bill because she believes it will expand coverage to uninsured Americans and reduce healthcare costs.

“Although I am disappointed that the Senate bill does not include a public option and that it includes an amendment that gives states additional options regarding the funding mechanisms for women’s reproductive health services, I would reluctantly vote for this bill,” she said.

Her campaign also sought to distinguish between the abortion provisions in the House and Senate versions, differences it characterized as “significant” in an e-mail to the Monitor.

“The key distinction is the House would bar any insurer accepting government subsidies from covering elective abortions, while the Senate would allow abortion coverage to be sold to anyone as long as enrollees paid for the portion covering abortions separately,” explained a Coakley aide.

Given the heavily Democratic tilt of Massachusetts politics, Coakley’s reversal is unlikely to significantly affect the outcome of the general election. But she risks upsetting many of her supporters, as well as abortion rights groups. EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect Democratic women in favor of abortion rights, was one of the first groups to endorse Coakley after she announced her intent to run for Senator Kennedy’s seat.

EMILY’s List offices were closed Monday due to inclement weather in Washington and therefore not available for comment. Recent reports on EMILY’s list fundraising for Coakley put the figure at about $400,000, plus an additional $100,000 the organization spent on mailings.


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