Coburn: Nelson agreement with leaders 'threw unborn babies under the bus'

A number of Republican senators attacked an agreement reached between Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Senate Democratic leaders Saturday, saying it would lead to the eventual reversal of more than 30 years of federal law banning abortion funding.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oka.) said it is “absolutely fictitious” that there is an anti-abortion provision in the Senate Democrats’ reworked healthcare reform bill.

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“The negotiations, whoever did them, threw unborn babies under the bus,” Coburn said.

Nelson had been one of the last Democratic holdouts on the legislation. One of his major concerns with the bill, along with a government-run insurance plan, known as the “public option,” was whether increased government health subsidies and other programs in the reform package would end up funding abortions with federal dollars.

Nelson, a staunch abortion opponent, said for the bill to earn his vote on cloture, that question would have to be answered before moving ahead. Such a measure to reinforce the federal ban on abortion funding was attached to the House version of the healthcare reform legislation by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which earned the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The federal ban on abortion funding has been in effect under the Hyde Amendment since 1977. Coburn and other GOP senators believe the Nelson agreement will eventually lead to the demise of the Hyde measure and most likely will warrant a Supreme Court challenge.

“The abortion language in this bill funds abortion for the first time since 1977,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). “We are told this is a pro-life bill. It is not.”

The agreement reached between Nelson and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will give states the choice to ban abortion coverage or not in the insurance exchanges the legislation creates. The deal will also separate premiums from insurance plans that pay for abortion from federal money.


That language has not won backing of the Catholic bishops, though, unlike the Stupak amendment in the House. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted that Nelson stood by himself Saturday morning to announce the agreement.

“He couldn’t find one group to stand by him and validate what he was saying,” Graham said.

Sen. Richard Burr (D-N.C.) took umbrage with Nelson, implying that he used his anti-abortion stance to help negotiate a better deal for the state of Nebraska. The manager’s amendment released by Reid on Saturday has Nebraska receiving extra Medicaid funds. In an earlier press conference, the Senate leader called it a “minor point” in winning Nelson’s vote.

“You have to compliment Ben Nelson for playing the price is right,” Burr said. “This isn’t the Louisiana Purchase. This is the Nebraska windfall.”