The defeat of the Nelson-Hatch amendment that would have truly barred federal funding of abortion from the health care reform bill is a huge setback for the pro-life movement. Today, it appears that only one Senator, Ben Nelson, and a handful of Congressmen stand between health care reform that is true to its name and health care reform that greatly expands coverage of a procedure that is can only be termed health care in those rare instances when the life of the mother is at stake.
The small group of Democrats who voted for the Nelson-Hatch amendment should be commended although only Sen. Nelson has said that the current abortion language remains an obstacle to securing his vote. Nelson also, and admirably, said that he will continue negotiating, seeking some sort of compromise language that will come close enough to the House-passed Stupak amendment to represent a meaningful ban on federal funding of abortion coverage and yet not so alienate pro-choice legislators that it lacks the votes to pass. The USCCB, which has said it is not negotiating further, should follow Nelson’s lead and get back to the table with open ears and open hearts.
The most interesting vote cast yesterday was that of Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware. Who? If you don’t recall the name it is because he recently joined the Senate, appointed to fill the seat vacated by Vice-President Joe Biden. Kaufman was a long time aide to Biden and while his seat is not exactly held in trust, it is unthinkable that he would have voted as he did without some indication from the Vice President’s office that such a vote was welcome. This is not to say that the White House has tipped its hat, but I think it shows that the White House is not going to the mat in opposition to the Stupak amendment either.
Both parties have much to learn from yesterday’s vote. Shame on the Republicans who refuse to support health care reform. The rest of the bill is, after all, very pro-life. Providing health insurance to women so that the costs of a pregnancy and live birth are covered is pro-life. Making sure that people are not denied coverage by rapacious insurance companies because of technicalities or pre-existing conditions is pro-life. Republican senators largely supported yesterday’s amendment on abortion and they should be commended, but they are deeply flawed champions of the pro-life cause.
Pro-life Democrats need to find ways to get more of our own elected. This means that we must find candidates for state legislatures, candidates for mayoralties, candidates for statewide office who are pro-life so that they can advance up the political ladder. We must make sure that we contribute to the campaign coffers of candidates who are pro-life on abortion and pro-life on the need for health care reform.
The floor vote was held in the light of day but the negotiations now go behind closed doors. Hopefully there, without the glare of the media and special interests, a better solution can be found than the current language in the Senate bill. It breaks my heart to think that at the end of the day any of us pro-life Democrats will have to oppose this bill. There is work to be done. We lost a vote yesterday but the struggle continues.