The Senate Debates Abortion

"Dice are rolling, knives are out," goes a lyric from the musical about political intrigue "Evita." As the Senate debates the Nelson-Hatch amendment, which would ban federal funding for abortion in ways similar to the Stupak Amendment which passed the House last month, the USCCB decided to roll the dice rather than continue to negotiate is search of a compromise. It is expected the Senate will defeat the Nelson-Hatch amendment and it is far from clear that the pro-life movement will be in a position to affect the final legislation once that happens.

The Senate’s pro-choice leaders were completely disingenuous in their comments on the Senate floor yesterday. They insisted that the current bill, which "segregates" public funds from the monies contributed by individuals, does not provide federal funding of abortion coverage. This is simply false. They also spoke movingly about poor women and their needs, conveniently overlooking the fact that most poor women will be covered by Medicaid in the new bill, and Medicaid does not cover abortion. And they trotted out the argument that an unplanned abortion is, by definition, unplanned, and so women would be unlikely to purchase an abortion rider, but all insurance is intended for unplanned events: No one plans on a child getting injured in their pool or a burglar stealing an especially valuable piece of jewelry, but people by riders to protect against such unplanned events all the time.


The abortion debate is concurrent with, and now related to, the debate over the public option. Memo to Harry Reid: Tell Nelson you will give him what he wants on abortion if he supports the public option! That does not bring over Olympia Snowe, of course, but if you have Nelson you don’t need Snowe’s vote. Just as importantly, the current compromise proposals on the public option will likely achieve much of what the Nelson-Hatch amendment sought on restricting abortion coverage. The expansion of Medicaid means more people in a federal program that does not cover abortion. And, Senate negotiators are talking about replacing the public option with a buy-in option, where individuals can essentially buy into the federal employees insurance program. That program, like Medicaid, also prohibits abortion coverage. This idea was, as far as I can tell, first floated in this very blog a week ago.

That leaves the issue of subsidized plans in the exchanges, the most nettlesome issue of all. Some have said that the differences between the Senate and House bills will need to be worked out in Conference Committee and that we can fight for the Stupak language there. But, I foresee a different scenario. I foresee the White House recognizing that the peculiar dynamics of the Senate make it impossible to alter whatever finally passes the upper chamber. I suspect they will ask Speaker Nancy Pelosi to agree to bring the Senate bill to the floor of the House as is, with no changes. If this happens, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have wide discretion to restrict abortion coverage or not, and that means that abortion will become a festering, central debate in all future elections. That is not a happy outcome and one that the USCCB should be willing to try and avoid by continuing to seek a compromise now.

The next twenty-four hours are probably decisive, and if you have a fence-sitting Senator in your state, give them a call. The problem is that there are not many fence-sitters on abortion. The dice are rolling. Let’s hope the knives stay sheathed.

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Peter Dew
9 years ago
I quote your opening line  "Dice are rolling, knives are out, .."   These knife 'metaphors' can be misconstrued by youngsters who do not know that the knives are allegorical & apparently intended as pretend. They can also be misconstrued by those with a mental condition as a 'call' to commit knife crime, as evidenced by 10 knife crime criminals who cited headlines from the Daily Mail newspaper as catalysts to their knife crimes. Please cease and desist in the interests of prevention of violence - thank you very much indeed. (To see detailed research, search for Knife Metaphors in Google search)
9 years ago
If at least one or two Republican senators were really committed to Pro life he/she could signal a heath care vote in exchange for no funding for abortion. What are chances of that? How about extending federal employee plan which has no abortion funding?
James Lindsay
9 years ago
Given that most Catholic voters have now bought into the very true argument that any politician's opinion on Roe v. Wade is irrelevant, I would think that some bishops would want abortion to be a "festering, central issue" in elections for as long as they can, especially those who lean toward the Republican side.
Bill Collier
9 years ago
Too bad the stalwart Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), a Methodist, and Catholic Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) (hopefully he’s still on board) aren’t backed on the Senate version of the Stupak amendment by even one of the following Catholic Democratic Senators: Patrick Leahy (VT), John Kerry (MA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Robert Menendez (NJ), Mary Landrieu (LA), Tom Harkin (IA), Richard Durbin (IL), Maria Cantwell (WA), Patty Murray (WA), Jack Reed (RI), Christopher Dodd (CT), and Claire McCaskill (MO).
Brian Thompson
9 years ago
As a citizen of Washington State, I thouroughly apologize from my senators.
Michael Liddy
9 years ago
As a citizen of New Jersey, I thoroughly apologize for my senators.
9 years ago
As a citizen of Illinois I am embarrassed by the Catholic Dick Durban and the christian Roland Burris and Barach Obama. I am, however, proud of Cardinal George's leadership!!!
Think Catholic
9 years ago
MSW chides the USCCB for not "compromising."  But he doesn't say what they should concede.  What federal funding for abortion should they concede MSW?  The proposal already does nothing more than prevent federal funding for abortion.  Any "compromise" beyond that is a radical change in federal policy, in violation of Hyde.  MSW can only be proposing that the USCCB concede the eradication of the Hyde tradition.  And that isn't compromise, it's selling out.
Michael Liddy
9 years ago
My understanding is that you either fund it or you dont. Does a middle ground or a compromise position even exist on this? Does anyone have suggestions?
Gabriel Marcella
9 years ago
Please tell the editors of America that they need to publish a series of articles on what makes Catholic senators and congressmen leave their faith outside the halls of Congress. Such writing is very much needed in a world where people can't think logically about the requirements of their faith with respect to life, where the culture of entitlement requires elective surgery (abortion) in health coverage. America has enormous credibility, which should be employed for the good cause. Also, kindly refrain from writing that the bishops should "compromise" on abortion. If they did so, where would that leave the credibility of 2000 years of Catholicism?


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