In Senate Health Care Struggle, It All Comes Down to Abortion

How Senator Ben Nelson's anti-abortion amendment could make or break health care reform

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The Democratic health care overhaul has survived anti-government town halls, deficit hawks, and virtual stonewalling by the Republican minority. In the end, though, commentators say it may be a debate over abortion that does the legislation in. Conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson filed an anti-abortion amendment Monday afternoon, ensuring that the fight over abortion rights takes center stage in the war over health care reform.

Now, just one month after the House health care bill passed with the Stupak amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, the Senate is ready to debate its own, even tougher anti-abortion amendment. Lawmakers and commentators say the amendment is unlikely to pass. But Sen. Nelson says he'll filibuster the legislation without it, which means Senate Democrats may have to look to moderate Republicans to get the 60 votes they need. Yet again, abortion has emerged as a pivotal issue in the drive to reform health care. Not everyone is happy about it.

  • Abortion Is Now the Top Threat to Reform The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy and Greg Hitt say the Nelson amendment sets up "a showdown that has no clear path to resolution." They say that if the amendment fails and Nelson refuses to support the bill, seeking support from moderate, pro-choice Republicans like Olympia Snowe could move the legislation to the right. "If that happens, the Maine contingent would have big leverage to dictate further changes to the bill, especially on the issue of the government-run insurance plan."
  • Abortion Debate May Make GOP Support Vital David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo says that without Nelson's vote, "the Democrats don't have 60. So it presents another possible scenario under which a GOP vote is crucial."
  • A Roadblock to ObamaCare Brian Darling of The Foundry says the "amendment may make it impossible for the bill to reach President Obama's desk by January."
  • Even 'Compromise' Will Move the Bill to the Right on Abortion At The Washington Post, Ezra Klein is worried. "With the retrograde Stupak language anchoring the debate, and supporters celebrating its apparent defeat, the 'compromise' is likely to be pretty far to the right."
  • Infuriating Mike Lillis of The Washington Independent says the amendment is out of line.
For supporters of abortion rights, the sticking point has been infuriating, if only because the Senate bill already retains the decades-old ban on federal funding of abortions. Indeed, under the legislation, women seeking abortion coverage would have to pay for it from their own pockets. The Nelson amendment -- like the House provision -- takes the prohibition a giant step further, effectively telling women that they can't buy coverage for a legal medical procedure with their own money.
  • 'Hatred of Female Sexuality' Being Used to Kill Health Care Reform At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte is indignant. "It seems that this entire review process will be done without a single female eyeball falling on the amendment," she writes. "The whole process makes it very clear how much this is about the patriarchal belief that men own women's bodies, and that they have a 'right' because women are filthy and inferior, due to the slut factor."
  • Too Far David Dayen of FireDogLake says the amendment "would basically take away abortion coverage for millions of Americans, and eventually, all Americans."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.