KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Senate Vote On Abortion Amendment Could Occur Today

The Washington Post reports that lawmakers in the Senate began consideration Monday "of an amendment to restrict abortion coverage" and a vote is expected today. The provision, "co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), would bar individuals who receive federal insurance subsidies from purchasing private policies that cover elective abortions. It also would ban abortion coverage under a government plan" (Murray, 12/8).

Politico: "For the next few weeks, the Senate floor will morph into a sort of legislative cage match, as Democrats and Republicans lock horns over a series of amendments to the health care bill that will give voters another glimpse of the philosophical and policy differences that divide the parties and a rare peek at the internal fighting among Democrats." The abortion amendment is a prime example: "Their language mirrors the controversial Stupak amendment in the House health care proposal. … The Nelson-Hatch amendment is likely to fail, but negotiators are expected to strengthen the current restrictions to make sure insurance companies don't use public money to pay for elective abortions." Senate Democrat leaders are doubting Nelson's support for the overall reform package, and may opt to craft a compromise on abortion during negotiations with the House instead if they can get the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (O'Connor, 12/8).

The Boston Globe: "The current Senate bill would allow insurance plans in government-subsidized exchanges to offer abortion coverage, but only if no federal money were used to pay for it. Current law already bans federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the mother's life." Said Nelson: "'Most Nebraskans, and Americans, do not favor using public funds to cover abortion and as a result this bill shouldn't open the door to do so.' ... Nelson and [Sen. Bob] Casey, D-Pa., did not flatly rule out voting for the final bill, even if it does not include the abortion restrictions they seek. But 'it would be very difficult for me to support something without this kind of [antiabortion] language in it,'' Nelson said" (Milligan, 12/8).

The Associated Press/The Houston Chronicle reports that debate about the amendment centered around moderates who want the amendment and liberals who say they've already given too much to compromise further. Liberals "said the amendment, expected to come to a vote Tuesday, goes too far by making it difficult for patients to use their own money to purchase coverage for a legal medical procedure, since there could be few if any plans offering the coverage" (Werner, 12/7).

The Wall Street Journal: "Both sides see the Senate bill as a turning point in the abortion debate and are making a big push to rally supporters. Abortion-rights advocates brought hundreds of supporters to the Capitol last week to meet lawmakers and have been running television advertisements calling the amendment an attempt to roll back women's rights." On the antiabortion side, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a missive to parishes Friday urging their members to contact lawmakers to push them to support the amendment (Adamy and Hitt, 12/8). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.