WASHINGTON (CNN) - The contentious health care reform debate intensified Wednesday as a bipartisan group of congressmen opposed to abortion pledged to fight any bill that fails to exclude the procedure from the scope of government-defined benefits.
"This issue is not about party politics. It's not about obstructionism. It is about saving lives and protecting pro-life Americans across the country," Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pennsylvania, said.
"American taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion. Nor should they be forced to be unwitting participants as the abortion industry uses (the health care debate) to mainstream the destruction of human life into America's health care industry."
The group argued that, under the current version of the House Democratic leadership's bill, most Americans would ultimately be forced to participate in a plan that covers abortion services. They complained that amendments specifying the exclusion of abortion mandates and subsidies had already been rejected by two of the three House committees handling health care legislation.
"Without an explicit exclusion, abortion will (eventually) be determined to be included in (the) benefits standards" by either Congress or the courts, Pitts predicted. He cited the example of Medicaid, which federal courts ruled had to cover abortion services until Congress passed legislation stating otherwise.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, warned that any comprehensive federal health care law would preempt individual state decisions regarding abortion services
"By making abortion an essential benefit and requiring that provider networks' enrollees have access to the items and services covered, this legislation would negate more than 200 individual laws in nearly every state that have stood the test of time and the scrutiny of the courts," he claimed.
Abortion rights advocates brushed aside the legislators' concerns, asserting that the issue of whether or not to cover abortion services would, in the end, still be decided by individual providers.
"Reps. Stupak and Pitts are obsessed with abortion, even though the health care bills don't reference abortion at all," said Ted Miller, a spokesman for the National Abortion Rights Action League.
"At the end of the day, we expect that the plans will decide what services to cover - just like they do now."
–CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report