Committee votes down abortion amendment

The Senate Finance Committee rejected an amendment to its healthcare bill Wednesday that would have required women to purchase a separate, supplemental insurance plan to cover abortion services.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed the amendment with the goal of making existing laws against federal money being used to pay for abortions, and the language in the healthcare bill, ironclad.

"All I'm asking -- my gosh -- is for specific language in the bill that prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions," Hatch said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) described Hatch's amendment as "insulting" to women.

Democrats on the committee, along with pro-abortion-rights Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) rejected Hatch's argument, saying it would be unfair to require women to purchase separate insurance coverage for abortion services. Such a requirement, Snowe said, would raise privacy issues by asking women to anticipate their need for abortion coverage.

"It's discriminating against women," said committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who authored the bill.

The amendment failed on a 10-13 vote, with Snowe joining Democrats and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) voting with the Republicans.

The bill, authored hews to existing laws on federal funding for abortion, Baucus argued. "The mark makes it clear that no federal funds will be used for abortion. None. None. It's very clear," he said. The existing rules, known as the Hyde amendment, includes exceptions for abortions from pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when the life of the woman is endangered.

Under the legislation, the federal tax credits used by individuals could not be used for abortion services. Instead, the policyholder's share of the premiums would be "segregated" from the federal dollars and go toward paying for abortion coverage.

That distinction is inadequate because money is inherently fungible, Hatch argued, and the bill needs a clearer prohibition to ensure no federal money goes to pay for an abortion. "You can't establish complete segregation of the funds."

A second Hatch amendment, designed to strengthen existing "conscience clause" laws protecting healthcare workers from performing abortions or other services to which they have moral or ethical objections, also failed on a 10-13 vote. Once again, Snowe voted with the Democrats and Conrad with the Republicans.