At the White House on Thursday, health reform director Nancy Ann DeParle praised Reid's effort to find a compromise on abortion.
"It was carefully worked through by the leader, who cares a lot about making sure this maintains the status quo on abortion policy," DeParle told reporters. Obama has said he wants the bill to remain neutral on abortion, and DeParle said Reid struck just the right balance.
But Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the bishops' conference Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said Reid's "is actually the worst bill we've seen so far on the life issues."
He called it "completely unacceptable," adding that "to say this reflects current law is ridiculous."
The bill would forbid including abortion coverage as a required medical benefit. However, it would allow a new government insurance plan to cover abortions and let private insurers that receive federal subsidies offer plans that include abortion coverage.
In all cases, the money to pay for abortions would have to come from premiums paid by beneficiaries themselves, kept strictly separate from federal subsidy dollars. Government funds could be used for abortions only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother - reflecting a current law known as the Hyde amendment.
The Hyde amendment restrictions apply to Medicaid, military health care and the federal employee health plan. Many states provide abortion coverage to low-income Medicaid beneficiaries, but they must do so separately with their own funds.
Abortion opponents say Reid's bill circumvents Hyde. For example, they say that any funds a government insurance plan would use to pay for abortion would be federal funds by definition - even if the money comes from premiums paid by beneficiaries.
"All the money the government has starts out being private money," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life. "Once the government has them, they're federal funds."
Catholics are not as stupid as we look.