Senate tables Nelson's abortion amendment 54-45

Senators voted Tuesday afternoon to set aside a healthcare amendment that would have curbed federal support for abortion coverage.

Senators voted to table a measure from Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Pa.) that would have banned the government from offering insurance plans in a national healthcare exchange that cover abortion.

The amendment, which needed 60 votes to pass and was not expected to be adopted, was tabled in a 54-45 vote.

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The provision, which mirrored restrictions in the House's healthcare bill authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Neb.), had been offered in part to win over Nelson, who'd previously warned he'd join a filibuster of the healthcare bill if it didn't contain sufficient protections against federal support for abortion.

Democrats lost seven of their own members on the measure -- Sens. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Ted Kaufmann (Del.), Robert Casey (Pa.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.) -- while two Maine's two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, supported the tabling.

The tabling represents a victory for abortion-rights supporters who had worried that the amendment's restrictions on abortion funding would go beyond what had previously been established by the Hyde amendment.

It's not clear, though, whether this afternoon's vote represents the last of the contentious issue's spot in the thick of the Senate's health reform efforts.

Casey, an abortion-rights opponent who co-sponsored the amendment, warned earlier on Tuesday that the de-facto defeat of the Nelson amendment would not mean the end of the Senate's abortion debate.