Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Senate Abortion Amendment Defeated

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) offered an amendment to the Senate health care bill that would have placed restrictions on abortion similar to those in the Stupak amendment to the House bill.

The Nelson amendment has been defeated. While six Democrats voted with Nelson, the two Republican Senators from Maine voted against. For reaction to Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl's stance on abortion and health care, please see this post at Freedom Eden (h/t Cindy Kilkenny)

What happens now that it appears the House and Senate versions of health reform differ? Open Congress has an interesting summary. Their analysis is based on differing versions of the public option, but the abortion provision could have the same affect on the process:

The conventional method is to bring both bills to an ad hoc “conference committee” made up of members of both the Senate and the House to iron out the differences into a final version that the committee can agree to. The committee bill, known as a “report,” then goes back to both the Senate and the House for a final vote. No amendments can be considered to conference reports, but senators can filibuster it and require 60 votes for it to pass.

For supporters of the healthcare effort, the conference method has drawbacks, not the least of which is the time the process takes.

That has Democrats considering a Plan B for reconciling the bills. "There is increased chatter on Capitol Hill about a possible “ping-ponging” of the Senate health care bill: that chamber would pass its health care bill, send it to the House and the House would be asked to pass it with no changes and send it directly to the president," reports Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post. Ping-ponging bills from the Senate to the House is not that uncommon. The 111th Congress has already used this method several times to pass some substantial bill, including legislation allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco (H.R. 1256), reforming the credit card industry (H.R. 627), the GIVE Act (H.R. 1388) and expanding S-CHIP (H.R. 2).

Again for supporters, there is a worry that accepting a Senate bill which is much less than what the more progressive members of the House want could have its own very serious negative consequences.

Now that the Senate has not included the Stupak abortion language, "ping-ponging" the Senate bill to the House has an additional hurdle. Namely, those forty or so Democrats who had allied themselves with Stupak and vowed to not vote for the original House bill until they had a chance to vote on the abortion amendment. Perhaps this group would consider the fact that they did go on record restricting abortion in the original House bill as sufficient, but I certainly wouldn't. Making a stand on an issue as important as abortion and losing is one thing. Making a stand and winning, but then capitulating to a Democratic majority Senate on such an important question seems unthinkable.

In case you think this abortion question is being overblown and all the Senate is doing is simply following current law, think again. From the NY Times:

The language that remains in the Senate bill would allow private plans to cover abortions. It would require at least one government-approved plan in each state to cover abortions and at least one government-approved plan in each state not to cover abortions.

Federal dollars could not be used to pay for abortions, so the Senate bill would require insurance plans to segregate privately paid premiums to use that money for abortions. Opponents of abortion rights have described the segregation of funds as a meaningless accounting trick.

Under existing federal law, generally referred to as the Hyde amendment, government money cannot be used to pay for abortions, except with rare exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. [E.A]

So we would go from the federal standard being one of paying for abortions only in rare cases to one where the government would mandate abortion coverage in every state. This would represent a substantial departure from the current environment. One which would be incredibly bad for the country and unspeakably bad for the unborn.

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