By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C. November 4, 2009 ( – Pro-life lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have slammed purported compromise language on abortion in healthcare reform as a “sham.” The language was proposed in an amendment known as the “Ellsworth amendment” by Democrats desperate to overcome a bloc within their own party that will attempt to bring down the abortion-expanding bill if it is not changed. 

The development comes just two days after Rep. Chris Smith warned thousands of listeners on a pro-life webcast that House leadership was likely to come up with language that would appear to lessen the bill's abortion threat.  But, as Smith and other leaders on the webcast insisted, Democrats in the House are not about to give up the “abortion industry bailout” in the bill.

“Today we see yet another phony amendment designed to subsidize and expand the abortion industry cloaked in deceptive language,” Smith said following the introduction of the Ellsworth amendment.

“Under the new arrangement, instead of an HHS employee issuing blood money checks for elective abortions, HHS will pay a contractor to issue checks for abortion on demand,” Smith explained.  “It is a distinction without a difference.  The public should not be fooled nor should any pro-life Democrat.”

In the Ellsworth plan, the government-run public health insurance option would still cover abortion, but would have to contract with private contractors to carry out the administrative functions related to paying for elective abortion. 

Congressional pro-life leaders insisted that only Stupak and Pitts' Hyde language would suffice to end the bill's threat. 

“If they truly want to keep abortion out of the health care bill, they must accept the Stupak-Pitts amendment, that says clearly and plainly that there can be no funding for abortion and no government subsidies for plans that cover abortion,” said Smith.  Pro-life Republican Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania called Ellsworth's amendment a “sham.”

National Right to Life Committee Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said that, “The pro-abortion House Democratic leadership is using Ellworth's phony language to undercut the real pro-life amendment [from Stupak].

“The Ellsworth language is the legislative equivalent of putting pancake makeup on a cancer, rather than performing lifesaving surgery.”

Initially dismissed by President Obama and mainstream media reports on the health bill, the abortion issue has come to the fore in recent weeks as the primary battleground on which Democrats fear the legislation could be defeated.  The bill's potential radical change in federal policy on funding abortion has prompted 40 Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, to demand that the full House at least have an up-or-down vote on the Stupak/Pitts amendment, which is similar to the famous Hyde amendment that disallows federal funding of abortion.  Stupak and other sources acknowledge that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not allow the vote opportunity, because the amendment is seen as very likely to succeed.

However, a crucial and unexpected turn of events this week could serve to prevent Stupak from whipping his colleagues, and even from casting his much-anticipated rule vote. 

Stupak's mother-in-law, Elaine Olsen, passed away Sunday in Escanaba, MI, and Stupak's office confirmed the Congressman would be out of town and thus cancelled his activities on the Hill for the rest of this week.

An anonymous senior House leadership aide told FOX News that Stupak's absence would not change the shape of abortion negotiations, but another top Democrat had a different take.  When asked if Stupak's absence could make an impact, the lawmaker responded: “Yeah. Big time.”

Rep. Pitts, who has worked closely with Stupak to block the bill's abortion expansion, suggested that leaders were pursuing the “compromise” in order to exploit Stupak's absence.

Meanwhile, H.R. 3962 inched closer to its final destination Tuesday evening after leadership filed the so-called “manager's amendment,” setting off a 72-hour minimum time buffer to allow lawmakers to read the bill before it is put to a vote.  The House Rules Committee will meet at 2 p.m. on Friday to determine the rules for the final debate, in preparation for a possible vote Saturday evening at 6 p.m.

Though House Democrats are working hard to ram the bill through on a tight schedule, there has been an increasing fear that their swift action will not be reflected in the Senate.  Senior Congressional Democrats told ABC News today that getting the health bill done by the end of the year was “a no-go.”

Only a week ago, President Barack Obama said at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that he was “absolutely confident” he'll have a health bill to sign by the end of the year.

Asked directly by ABC News, “Will you pass health care reform this year?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid simply replied “We are not going to be bound by any timetables.  We are going to do this as quickly as we can.”

It is considered generally easier to pass controversial legislation in non-election years such as 2009, when lawmakers faced with tough votes are less concerned about assuaging their constituency back home.  Also, House Democrats are likely to be more reticent about voting on the contentious bill if they have no feel for how their counterparts in the Senate will vote.

See related coverage:

11,000 on Abortion Mandate Webcast Warned against Phony Compromises in Healthcare Bill