Senate Democrats today turned back efforts by anti-abortion activists to insert language into the health care bill that would have significantly restricted women's access to abortion services if they relied on any form of federal subsidy for their health insurance. The amendment, introduced by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson -- a Democrat -- and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch was similar to the language of the anti-abortion amendment passed by the House and introduced by Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak.
In a motion introduced by California Senator Barbara Boxer, who has been an outspoken advocate against adding the abortion restrictions to the health care bill, the Senate agreed by a vote of 54-45 to table the amendment, defeating it before it ever came to a vote to add the language to the Senate bill.
Although the vote was generally along party lines, Democrats who voted against tabling Nelson's anti-abortion amendment (which would have opened it up to the 60-vote cloture rule and potential passage) included Nelson, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (once considered for the VP slot on Obama's ticket), Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor and North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine voted in favor of tabling it, as did Republican-turned-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
Assuming the Senate legislation passes, the Stupak language will be one of an increasing number of differences between the House and Senate legislation that will be debated in conference committee. But whereas the pro-choice movement was caught flat-footed by the surge of Democrats who voted for the Stupak amendment in the House after the major pro-choice groups thought any such debate was off the table, they'll likely re-arm to fight, tooth-and-nail, the inclusion of anti-abortion language in any final health care reform bill.
(Originally posted at Air America)