Senate Amendment Outlook

Things are not looking good in the Senate for the effort to keep the health-care reform bill from including federal funding of abortion. While prospects for Sen. Ben Nelson’s amendment to ban funding of most abortions appear bleak, another amendment, introduced by Barbara Mikulski, which could leave the door open to federal funding of abortions, passed yesterday.

The National Right to Life Committee had opposed the amendment, saying it would “empower political appointees at the [Health Resources and Services Administration] to issue mandates that all health plans cover any service ‘with respect to women’ that is declared to constitute ‘preventive care.’”

At some point, a political appointee could determine that abortions fall under the general categoy of preventive care.

Sound crazy? Not to Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, and Susan Muskett, senior legislative counsel. In their Nov. 30 letter to senators opposing Amendment 2791, they pointed out that prominent pro-abortion advocates are on record discussing abortion as a category of “preventive health care.” They also said that when Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, offered a similar amendment in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions earlier this year, it was backed by Naral Pro-Choice America, Catholics for Choice, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups.

The Mikulski amendment passed by a margin of 61-39. Supporters included three Republicans: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and David Vitter of Louisiana. Opponents included two Democrats: Nelson of Nebraska and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, there does not appear to be enough support for an amendement similar to the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the House bill, which bans federal funding of abortions except in cases where the life of the mother is at stake or the unborn child was conceived through rape or incest.

“Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said he expected that all but a few Republicans would support Sen. Ben Nelson’s amendment, which would restrict access to abortions for women who receive federal subsidies,” reported The Hill newspaper. “But the amendment is likely to be subject to the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, and Kyl does not expect 20 votes on the other side to back the controversial change.”

Kyl told The Hill Thursday afternoon that most Republicans will support the amendment, “but I don’t think that will be enough to carry it through; it’s a 60-vote margin.”

The U.S. bishops have said they will not support a health-care reform bill that allows the government to require taxpayers to foot the bill for abortions. The latest bishop to make that clear was Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minn. In an interview Thursday afternoon with Minnesota Public Radio, he reiterated the Church’s opposition to any bill that would allow abortion coverage.

“I believe that health-care reform is necessary,” he said. “The question is: What kind of health care do we want as a nation? And any health-care program that would include the killing of the unborn is unacceptable.”