Reid modifies abortion provisions but eschews Stupak language

The Senate healthcare reform bill includes new language designed to prevent taxpayer money from financing abortions, an anti-abortion-rights Democrat said Wednesday.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who was briefed on the healthcare bill by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in advance of a Wednesday meeting of all Senate Democrats, said he received assurances that his concerns about abortion had been met.

"What he said was, he thought the way in which he handled it would satisfy my concerns," Nelson said. Reid told him "it was a good faith effort to try to find a compromise."

Nelson and Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), the three Democrats who have not committed to a procedural vote to advance the healthcare bill that could come Saturday, sat down with Reid Wednesday afternoon.

Nelson emphasized he had seen no legislative language on abortion and specified that the provisions would not be the same approved by the House. Those provisions have triggered an outcry from pro-abortion-rights Democrats in both chambers, who vowed to strip them from any legislation that reaches President Barack Obama. 

Sixty-four Democrats voted for an amendment offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that would forbid insurance plans and the government-run public option in the bill's exchange from covering abortion services without a supplementary policy.

The original committee versions of the House and Senate bills already included limits on federal funding for abortion services but they did not go far enough to satisfy anti-abortion-rights Democrats like Stupak and Nelson.

Finding a middle ground will be a challenge, said Nelson. "The problem is, any kind of compromise leaves it somewhat short to one or both parties," he said.

An existing law, known as the Hyde amendment, already prohibits federal money from paying for abortions except in cases or rape or incest or when the woman's life is endangered. Anti-abortion-rights lawmakers, however, argued that the House bill and the measures approved by two Senate committees would have circumvented that law.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who supports abortion rights, said Reid's new provisions would preserve the Hyde amendment while enabling people to buy insurance plans with abortion coverage on the exchange.

"We're basically going to keep current law, which is what we ought to do," Kerry said after the Democratic caucus meeting.

More in News

Pope expected to eschew politics during US tour

Read more »