WASHINGTON — Democratic members of Congress who support the health-care bill moving toward a final vote as soon as March 21 said abortion-funding restrictions would add to the bill’s costs because more children would be born, according to the leading pro-life Democrat in Congress.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., told the Register days before the final vote was expected that several fellow Democratic members of Congress have approached him to criticize an amendment he has advocated, which would bar federal taxpayer funding of elective abortions on the grounds that it would increase the overall cost of the health-care overhaul bill.

The increased cost would stem from a lower number of abortions expected with Stupak’s amendment and a commensurate increase in the number of people needing health-care coverage.

“I found that was a sad commentary if we’re going to start putting a value on the cost of that life,” Stupak said.

Stupak raised concerns with the Democratic leadership that abortion should not be considered as a cost saver. Senior Democrats said the costs of all provisions of the health-care bill had to be considered.

“A number” of fellow Democrats requested the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide a cost estimate for Stupak’s abortion funding-ban language. The CBO estimated, according to Stupak, the abortion-funding ban would cost up to $500 million over 10 years due to the higher number of births and increased number of people using the health-care resources expected to stem from it.

“It costs more to have a child than to have it aborted, if you will,” Stupak said. “And I thought that was a pretty sick way of looking at it.”

The estimate was not publicly released by the CBO.

Stupak’s abortion-funding ban amendment was included in an earlier version of the health-care legislation but is not in the version that the House is expected to vote on this weekend. Stupak and up to 12 other pro-life Democrats who supported the earlier bill have vowed to oppose the final health-care measure, which could be a critical bloc of votes when added to unified Republican opposition to the bill.

‘Resource, Not Liability’

Stupak would not name the other Democrats who raised the abortion cost-saving issue to him and calls to the offices of senior Democrats and the leaders of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus were not returned.

Although no Democrat in Congress has publicly opposed the abortion-funding ban based on the increased cost of more births, some pro-life advocates see previous comments by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as related. During the 2009 debate over the federal stimulus bill, she argued in interviews with several media outlets that contraception funding should be included because it would “reduce cost” for state and federal health-care programs.

Even supporters of the health-care bill were shocked that anyone would use the argument that more abortions would save the government money.

“Oh, good Lord. We’re trying to save lives and keep people alive,” said Stephanie Niedringhaus, a spokeswoman for Network, an umbrella lobbying group for women’s religious orders that endorsed the final health-care bill.

John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, found the view of abortion as a cost saver was “grossly offensive” and urged pro-choice members of Congress to remember people are a “resource” not just a “liability” because each person has the potential to bring benefits for society as a whole.

Otherwise, “you get people who say the government should provide abortion funding so poor women will have fewer children and require less Medicaid funding down the line,” Brehany said.

Other pro-life advocates were not surprised when told about Stupak’s conversations with other members of Congress.

“It’s not surprising because certainly part of the premise of abortion is that there are children that ought not be born,” said Brian Burch, president of CatholicVoteAction.org, a 500,000-member Catholic lay advocacy group. “For whatever reason, they are seen as burdens, and one of those reasons certainly is financial.”

Rich Daly writes from Washington D.C.