WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators debating health care legislation are headed for a clash over abortion, the issue that threatened to derail the bill in the House.
Anticipating the showdown, hundreds of abortion rights supporters gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to call on senators to keep new abortion restrictions out of the health care bill. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., plans to
unveil an anti-abortion amendment as early as Thursday that abortion rights supporters inside the Senate and out say they can't support.
Nelson says he won't vote for the underlying bill without his strong abortion language. But opponents say his amendment doesn't have the votes to pass. The outcome could be critical in determining the fate of President Barack Obama's signature health overhaul agenda.
At issue is how abortions would be handled in the health care bills. In the House, a bloc of anti-abortion Democrats forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to accept restrictions that outraged liberals as the price for passing the Democratic health care bill last month.
The language passed by the House would forbid any health plan that receives federal subsidies from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life. A new government insurance plan couldn't offer abortions, and women would have to purchase separate coverage for abortion services.
Behind the scenes, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who opposes abortions but wants to vote for the overall health care bill, has been working to find language that could satisfy both sides.
"Our goal is to maintain essentially Hyde-like protections that prevent federal funds from being used to pay for and subsidize abortion," Casey's communications director Larry Smar said Wednesday, referring to the existing law on abortion, though nothing had been finalized.
Efforts to find such a common ground failed in the House.
Women's rights groups were caught off-guard by the provision that passed the House and are now vowing to keep similar language out of the Senate bill. Hundreds of activists organized by Planned Parenthood and other groups rallied Wednesday, holding signs reading "Listen up senators: Women's health is not negotiable."
Several House Democrats spoke, vowing to oppose final passage of any health bill with the tough abortion restrictions already approved by the House. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called it "a devil's bargain" that she couldn't accept.
But the House language is just what Nelson wants to include in the Senate bill. He is not satisfied with the language filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., which would forbid including abortion coverage as a required medical benefit, but would allow a new government insurance plan to cover abortions and let private insurers that receive federal subsidies offer plans that include abortion coverage.
The money to pay for abortions would have to come from premiums paid by beneficiaries themselves, kept strictly separate from federal subsidy dollars. Supporters say that would keep government funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother as allowed under a current law known as the Hyde amendment.
Abortion opponents say Reid's bill circumvents Hyde. For example, they say that any funds a government insurance plan would use to pay for abortion would be federal funds by definition -- even if the money comes from premiums paid by beneficiaries.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said after addressing the crowd that she didn't think Nelson had the votes to prevail, though she stopped short of saying she'd oppose the overall legislation if it included Nelson's language. Reid controls 60 votes, the exact number needed to advance legislation in the 100-member Senate, so he has no room for error.
Boxer told activists at the rally that the anti-abortion amendment adopted by the House amounted to "the biggest rollback in a woman's right to choose in three decades."
Here are more headlines from across the country:
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told reporters Thursday that he would not vote to advance healthcare reform legislation unless it includes language that would restrict access to abortions for women who receive federal subsidies.
Nelson’s stance puts Democratic leaders in a difficult position as they brace for difficult votes on two amendments to their healthcare legislation.
The Senate will soon consider an amendment offered by Nelson that would be similar to the abortion amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that the House adopted last month.
The Senate will also consider an amendment offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would allow drug re-importation, a popular proposal that could derail a delicate alliance President Barack Obama forged with the pharmaceutical industry.
Read more on The Hill
The pro-life grassroots community has raised tens of thousands of dollars so they could put up radio ads thanking Pro-life House Democrat Bart Stupak and Pro-life House Republican Joe Pitts for their pro-life friendly abortion amendment that passed the House last month.
Read more from the group that put it together:
Today the Susan B. Anthony List announced a radio campaign in the northern Michigan district of Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and the Pennsylvania district of Representative Joe Pitts. The ads, funded through grassroots donations nationwide, thank both members for their efforts to exclude government-funded abortion from health care reform.
The radio ads can be heard on CBN News
We called for a day of action to stop the Stupak abortion ban and that's exactly what we got! Like me, hundreds of activists from across the country flooded the U.S. Capitol today with one mission in mind -- to pass health care reform and to ensure that the anti-choice abortion ban, known as the Stupak amendment, is not part of the health care reform bill.
I was blown away by the energy of the standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 advocates at our noontime Stop Stupak Event on the Hill. Pro-choice American women of every age and geographic background and some pro-choice men, too -- thank goodness for them -- made it clear that health reform that robs women of access to reproductive health care is not health care reform at all. The power of our movement was palpable.
Planned Parenthood representatives from 30 states were there. Seeing all of our supporters and our many coalition partners (too many to list here) in one room was awe-inspiring.
Representative Donna Edwards got it right when she said (to cheers), "The ground troops have arrived."
Read more on The Hill
Bashing the Stupak Amendment
Pro-choice groups are trying to make sure the pro-life Stupak amendment never becomes reality in the final healthcare reform bill. Hundreds of them are lobbying their representatives in Congress. The Brody File has obtained some video of the event below. Thanks to the St. Michael Society for the video. More on the group here.
Watch video below:
Here is a little more info from the "Stop Stupak Coalition"
Hundreds of women and men, patients, health care providers, students, religious and progressive leaders and Latina and African American advocates joined members of Congress at a Stop Stupak! event on Capitol Hill on Wednesday December 2. The event was part of the Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak! DC Lobby Day. The coalition, representing a broad group of advocacy organizations from the progressive and women's health communities, is sending a strong message to Congress that the anti-choice Stupak amendment and others like it must not be included in the final health care reform legislation. Specifically, the coalition is working to ensure that health care reform is passed and that it does not restrict women's ability to purchase private health insurance that covers comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care. The DC Lobby Day is part of the coalition's National Week of Action, from Monday November 30-Sunday, December 6.
More than 500 supporters from 30 states, including California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin traveled to DC to meet with their members of Congress and urge opposition to the anti-choice Stupak amendment and others like it.
Pro-Lifers are pushing back. Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life responded with this video below:
Pressure on Democrats to abandon abortion restrictions added to the House health care legislation continues to grow, just as the debate over the divisive issue heads to the Senate.
More than 500 people from 30 states gathered at the Capitol today in opposition to an amendment to the health care overhaul that would restrict health insurance coverage for abortion. The so-called Stupak amendment, introduced by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), made it into the House bill last month.
The group of abortion rights supporters in Washington today were organized by a coalition made up of dozens of groups that advocate for issues like abortion rights, women's rights, and civil rights.
Read more on CBS News
A bipartisan group of anti-abortion senators are preparing an amendment similar to one on the House side that would erect a blockade between taxpayer dollars and abortion coverage.
The group of lawmakers includes Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. They're looking to replicate the work of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who included an amendment in the House-passed bill to prevent taxpayer subsidies from going toward abortion coverage.
A number of groups and lawmakers had criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill for not including similar restrictions. Nelson earlier questioned the Senate plan to build a firewall between federal and private funds. He called the leader's move "complex" and asked to be briefed on how it would work.
The appearance of the amendment suggests Nelson and some of his colleagues are not convinced the current language will adequately restrict taxpayer funding from going toward abortion. Hatch, though, acknowledged it may be tough to get the 60 votes needed to pass the amendment.
"We're not talking about doing away with abortion. We're talking about refusing to have federal funds pay for it," he said.
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