A key Senate centrist is "highly unlikely" to support any heath bill without an abortion provision similar to the House's Stupak amendment.

A spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) said the centrist Democrat was pleased by the amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which was included in the House health reform legislation to restrict federal funding for abortions.

"Sen. Nelson is strongly pro-life and was pleased the Stupak amendment passed with such strong support," said Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson. "He believes that no federal money — including subsidies or tax credits — should be used to buy insurance coverage for abortion."


Thompson cautioned as well that Senate Democratic leaders may lose Nelson's support, which they have courted assiduously, without a provision in the Senate bill similar to the Stupak amendment.

"This is a very important issue to Sen. Nelson and it is highly unlikely he would support a bill that doesn’t clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to abortion," Thompson said.

Liberal Democrats and abortion-rights supporters in the House have demanded that the Stupak amendment be stripped during conference with Senate leaders over their own bill. If the Senate were to include such language, though, it would make stripping the amendment even more difficult during conference.

Nelson is one of a few centrist Democrats whom leaders need to be on board in the Senate to stave off a potential Republican filibuster of the bill. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has already threatened to filibuster the bill if it contains the public option.

The abortion provisions threaten to reignite a fracture between liberal and centrist Democrats in Congress, a rift that has been on display over the public option and has more prominently manifested over abortion as of late.