Senate Rejects Abortion Restrictions in Health Bill

BY Bridget Desimone  December 8, 2009 at 11:37 PM EDT

The Senate Tuesday rejected an attempt to tighten restrictions on abortion coverage in its health care bill. In a 54-45 vote, senators tabled — or set aside — a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. The amendment would have banned any government-run health insurance plan from offering abortion coverage. It also would have prohibited private insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortion to women receiving federal subsidies, in the new health insurance exchange marketplace. The amendment’s language mirrored a similar amendment, offered by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, that was added to the House health reform bill that passed last month. At the time, Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood, told the NewsHour the group was looking ahead to work to defeat it in the Senate, while Richard Doerflinger of the United Conference of Catholic Bishops said he was pleased with the amendment. The Senate bill currently allows both private and government insurance plans to cover abortions, but requires that insurers separate private dollars and federal money, and pay for abortions only with private money. But Nelson said that language was not acceptable. “Segregation of funds is an accounting gimmick,” he said. “The reality is federal funds would help buy coverage that includes abortion.” Abortion rights supporters said the amendment went too far in barring coverage of a currently legal medical procedure, even if the patient pays the entire cost. California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said: “It’s wrong to single out women and to say to women of this country, they can’t use their own private funds to purchase insurance that covers the whole range of reproductive health care.” Today’s vote could undermine support for final passage of the health care overhaul. Nelson has repeatedly threatened not to vote for the reform bill unless the stricter abortion language he wants is included. Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would continue to work with Nelson and others to reach the 60 votes needed to stave off a Republican filibuster of the bill. “If he doesn’t succeed here, we will try something else,” he said. Reid also said moderate and progressive Democrats continued their intense negotiations today to find common ground over creating a government run public option.