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Abortion Spotlight Shines on Ben Nelson

Abortion language included into the Senate health care bill by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly came under attack from abortion-rights foes, who are trying to ratchet up the pressure on moderate Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to block consideration of the bill.

Nelson is the only anti-abortion Democrat who has said he might filibuster the motion to proceed to the bill over the issue, and he said Wednesday night that he needed to study the new language before deciding what to do.

Nelson has said he wants something close to the House’s amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which prohibits women getting new federal health care subsidies from buying insurance policies that cover the procedure. Such women would have to buy separate abortion insurance.

But the Senate bill unveiled Wednesday night would give women receiving federal subsidies the option to choose insurance plans covering abortion as well as those that don’t. The procedure would have to be paid for with money derived from premiums instead of federal taxes. The public insurance option could also pay for abortions, but only if the money could be segregated so that no federal tax dollars are used for the services. Opponents of abortion funding have derided those provisions as meaningless accounting ploys, and the National Right to Life Committee said the language is “completely unacceptable.—

“It’s a shell game, nothing more, nothing less,— Nelson’s fellow Nebraskan, Sen. Mike Johanns (R), said in a floor speech Thursday targeting Nelson and other anti-abortion Democrats.

Johanns said the vote on the motion to proceed on the Senate bill “has become the key vote on abortion— because there aren’t 60 Senators who would vote to amend the bill with the stricter abortion language that’s included in the House bill.

“I sincerely wish there were 60 pro-life voters in the Senate, but by my count, I don’t get there,— Johanns said. “Therefore, we won’t be able to change this. If there’s a Senator willing to suggest otherwise, I respectfully invite them to come to the floor, share the list of 60 Senators who are willing to vote for a provision that ensures that the Stupak amendment will be there.—

Johanns noted that Stupak and 40 other House Democrats forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to back down by threatening to block a procedural vote.

“Today in the Senate, we don’t need 40 Democrats to stand up for what’s right. We need just one. If just one pro-life Democrat would say I will not vote to move this bill until it’s fixed, until it’s truly pro-life, that would happen.—

Nelson, however, argued Wednesday that the key vote is not the motion to proceed to begin debating the Senate health care overhaul but on the motion to end debate on the bill. He also has said he does not want to be too obstinate lest it force leaders to reconsider the measure using the budget reconciliation route requiring just 51 Senate votes.

A key issue for abortion-rights opponents is whether access to abortion will increase with the passage of the bill. Since tens of millions of uninsured, largely lower-income women have by definition no coverage for abortions, they say that if abortion is covered under the insurance exchanges it would lead to a dramatic expansion of the procedure.

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