Abortion Has Become Major Issue in Senate HealthCare Debate

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A vote on an amendment to prohibit federal funding for abortion in the Senate health care reform proposal could come as early as today. Analysts say abortion may turn out to be the deal-breaker with both sides vowing not to compromise.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that pro-life Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) may introduce an amendment today that will impose the same restrictive language on abortion funding in the Senate version of health care reform that passed in the House by a wide margin a few weeks ago.

Abortion is becoming a more serious sticking point than even the contentious public option because at least there are numerous options that can be discussed as far as a government-run program is concerned, but the abortion issue is another matter. Pro-life lawmakers say they won’t vote for the overall bill unless it prohibits all abortion funding from the bill while abortion supporters say any such restrictions would amount to a big “setback” for women’s “reproductive rights.” Thus far, neither side is wiling to compromise.

As the Senate bill currently stands, abortion is included in the public plan and allow women who receive government tax credits for insurance to enroll in a plan that covers the procedure. Tax credits would supposedly be segregated so none of the funds goes toward abortion coverage. However, pro-life lawmakers say this plan is too lenient andn to prevent any plan that receives federal funding from covering abortion except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.

“As far as I’m concerned, this bill is a compromise,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who supports the bill in its current form. “People are really ready to move on on this issue and not have a protracted debate about legal abortion in this country.”

Even though Sen. Nelson probably does not have enough votes to pass his amendment, both sides are rallying their supporters. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a missive to all parishes on Friday alerting people to contact their lawmakers to support Sen. Nelson’s amendment. On the other side of the issue, abortion supporters converged on the Capitol last week to warn their representatives against any attempt to roll back women’s rights.
The abortion fight could be decisive because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) needs every vote to overcome a possible Republican filibuster. Sen. Nelson has already said he won’t vote for any plan that includes abortion language other than what he proposes. Even though Sen. Reid could possibly gain the votes of pro-abortion Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of these women have vowed to vote against any bill that includes a public option.

Meanwhile, many senators are expressing surprise that abortion has become such an important issue in the health care reform debate. As pro-abortion  Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said last week, “It is a shock to all of us…that this has come down to an abortion issue.”

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