The 54-45 vote to table the amendment turned back an effort by Sens. Ben Nelson, D.-Neb., and Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, to revise the Senate health-care bill to prohibit federal funding for abortions in a government-managed program and federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortions.
With the tabling of the Nelson-Hatch Amendment, the bill sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act -- moves forward without the restrictions on federal funding of abortion that were placed in the measure by the House of Representatives. The pro-life restrictions in the House bill were promoted by Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.).
The House approved its version of health-care reform Nov. 7 with an amendment prohibiting government coverage of abortions in the "public option" and barring federal subsidies for lower-income people in private insurance plans that cover abortions. Sixty-four Democrats joined 176 Republicans in voting 240-194 for the pro-life amendment by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa.
During debate Tuesday, Nelson told the other senators, "We're not here to debate for or against abortion. This is a debate about taxpayer money. It's a debate about whether it's appropriate for public funds to -- for the first time in more than three decades -- cover elective abortions. … Most Americans and most of the people in my state would say, 'No.'
"… Some suggest that the Stupak language imposes new restrictions on abortion. But that's not really the case," said Nelson, who said his amendment mirrored Stupak's. "We're seeking to just apply the same standards to the Senate health-care bill that already exist for many federal health programs."
The Nelson-Hatch Amendment would not have prevented women from purchasing with their own money insurance that covers elective abortions, as long as federal funds are not used.
Nelson, the most solid pro-life Democrat in the Senate, has said he will vote to stop the legislation if abortion-funding language is not removed from the bill.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), urged Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 15 other senators in a Dec. 7 letter to support Nelson's amendment.
"We find it unconscionable for the federal government to use federal dollars for the destruction of unborn human lives," Land said in the letter.
"We believe that any health care reform bill must include, at the very least, explicit language excluding elective abortion services," he said.
Land's letter went to the following less liberal Democrats: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana; Robert Byrd of West Virginia; Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, both of North Dakota; Kay Hagan of North Carolina; Tim Johnson of South Dakota; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Bill Nelson of Florida, and Mark Warner and Jim Webb, both of Virginia. It also was sent to more liberal Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine.
The ERLC joined 36 other organizations in asking all 100 senators to support the Nelson Amendment in a Dec. 8 letter. Other organizations endorsing the letter included the Christian Medical Association, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council Action, Focus on the Family, 40 Days for Life, National Association of Evangelicals, National Black Pro-life Union, National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony List.
An amendment by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R.-Alaska, that would have barred abortion from being classified as "preventive care" failed on a 59-41 vote.
Mikulski's amendment requires private plans and insurers to cover "preventive care" services as determined by HRSA. The proposal does not require abortion coverage by private plans, but it also does not exclude it from coverage.
President Obama has indicated he would be unlikely to sign a health-care bill that included the Stupak language.
A CNN poll in November found American adults are against "using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it" by a 61-37 percent margin. A CBS News poll showed that by a 56-34 percent margin Americans say insurance plans should not cover abortion "if the federal government provides subsidies or credits to help people buy health insurance."
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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