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Abortion Takes Center Stage (Again)

A month ago, House leaders were forced into a corner by conservative Democrats insisting that health reform legislation include language prohibiting abortion coverage on the exchange. This week, the scenario is threatening to play out again in the upper chamber, where Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) will introduce an amendment today mirroring the House provision.

The amendment isn’t likely to get the 60 votes needed to pass, but its failure might not be the end of the debate. That’s because Democrats will likely need Nelson’s vote to pass the final bill sometime down the road, and the Nebraska moderate has threatened to withhold that support if strong anti-abortion language isn’t attached.

For supporters of abortion rights, the sticking point has been infuriating, if only because the Senate bill already retains the decades-old ban on federal funding of abortions. Indeed, under the legislation, women seeking abortion coverage would have to pay for it from their own pockets. The Nelson amendment — like the House provision — takes the prohibition a giant step further, effectively telling women that they can’t buy coverage for a legal medical procedure with their own money.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was quick to point that out this morning in an interview with CBS:

Let’s be clear, the bill as it stands does continue current law, which says no federal money can be used to fund abortions. [...]

What this amendment does is goes further, it actually says you can’t use private money in a private market for any kind of health services related to abortions. And frankly, I think that goes too far.

What’s fascinating here is that it’s been the free-market conservatives — and Nelson is one — who have led the opposition against allowing women to pay for a specific health insurance product on the open market with their own money. But of course those same conservatives also insisted on language in the Senate bill preventing illegal immigrants from buying any health insurance on the exchange, even at full price. Maybe if there were more Latinos in the upper chamber, that quandary might not have been so largely ignored.

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