Pagliuca presses Capuano, Coakley on health care bill

Wants rivals to drop opposition over abortion

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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US Senate candidate Stephen Pagliuca intensified pressure yesterday on Democratic rivals Martha Coakley and Michael E. Capuano to drop their opposition to any final national health care bill that contains a provision limiting federal funding for abortion.

“They will scuttle this bill on a wedge issue,’’ Pagliuca said in his sharpest comments of the campaign during a phone interview. “I’m prochoice, but at the end of the day, if it is a choice of [abortion limits] being in the bill, and of being able to get 36 million Americans covered, I vote for coverage.’’

The Coakley and Capuano campaigns dismissed Pagliuca’s criticism in separate statements.

“Mike Capuano is the only candidate who voted for the health care reform bill and kept alive the possibility of real health care reform,’’ said his spokeswoman, Alison Mills.

Alex Zaroulis, a Coakley spokeswoman, said, “Steve Pagliuca is just wrong on this issue. It is troubling that he continues to insist on this false choice. We can and will pass meaningful health care reform without taking a step back on women’s rights.’’

The House version of a national health care bill that narrowly passed Nov. 7, 220-215, contained the so-called Stupak amendment, which limits federal funding for abortion. Capuano voted in favor of the bill. The Senate is working on its own version of a health care bill, and many predict the abortion language may be dropped.

The three candidates, along with City Year cofounder Alan Khazei, are vying for the Democratic nomination in the Dec. 8 special election to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Khazei, who was not mentioned by Pagliuca yesterday, issued a statement last week saying he would reluctantly support legislation that contained abortion funding limits “to achieve the important goal of universal health care.’’

US Representative Capuano, who last week was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a chief architect of the bill, has said he voted in favor of the bill to move it along in the legislative process. He said he might not support a final version of the bill if it still contains the limit on abortion funding.

The campaign for Coakley, the attorney general who has won strong support among women, announced yesterday that she was endorsed by the National Organization for Women Political Action Committee and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood called Capuano a “strong supporter of choice in Congress,’’ but cited Coakley’s long “commitment to protecting access to sexual health services.’’

Pagliuca has used the abortion issue to draw a sharp distinction between himself and Coakley and Capuano. He launched a radio ad last week that stated, “two of my opponents for the US Senate are putting this landmark legislation at risk’’ but did not name them until yesterday.

“This is a moment in time. We have been fighting to get universal coverage for America for over 40 years,’’ said Pagliuca, a millionaire businessman and part-owner of the Boston Celtics, in the interview. “This is the first time we’re getting close to getting that done.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at