Activists on both sides of the abortion debate have expressed their displeasure with the Senate version of the healthcare bill, which will be up for a final vote on Christmas Eve. If the bill passes, it will then go into conference to be reconciled with the House bill, from which it has substantial differences.
The Senate bill includes an abortion compromise that was added this past weekend in an effort to secure the support of Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). Right-wing senators took to the Senate floor to denounce the new language. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who had previously sponsored an unsuccessful anti-abortion amendment with Nelson,said “The language to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to fund elective abortions in the Reid amendment is completely unacceptable. The new abortion provisions are significantly weaker than the amendment I introduced with Senator Ben Nelson” stated the Main Street Business Journal. In a press conference on Saturday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) told reporters that the negotiations with Nelson “threw unborn babies under the bus.”
The National Right to Life Committee issued a statement strongly opposing the new version of the bill and Operation Rescue, an anti-choice extremist group, blasted Nelson on their website for having “sold out the lives of innocent children for political gain.” The National Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that they do not support the bill moving forward toward a vote.
Pro-choice groups also expressed their unhappiness with the compromise. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement that “After the passage of the Stupak amendment in the House, we heard loud and clear from women across the country that they will not stand for the undermining of their rights and their access to benefits. This Nelson abortion check provision will no doubt create the same outrage, as women learn that they are being made second-class citizens when it comes to health care coverage.” The President of NOW, Terry O’Neill, also made a statement, saying she was “outraged” as right-wing ideologues like Nelson and the Catholic Bishops may not understand this, but abortion is health care. And health care reform is not true reform if it denies women coverage for the full range of reproductive health services.”
Pro-choice senators accepted the compromise reluctantly. In a joint statement, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), assured the public that “We said all along that we wanted to ensure there was a firewall between private and public funds â” this compromise achieves that. We said we would not accept language that prohibited a woman from using her own private funds for her legal reproductive health care â this compromise meets that test.” quoted the New York Times. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), appearing on the PBS NewsHour Monday, expressed his general unhappiness with the compromise, saying “I don’t like the deal that was made on abortion. I think that that compromises a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to explain his acceptance of the manager’s amendment and the healthcare bill, saying, “A woman with breast cancer is 40 percent more likely to die if she doesn’t have insurance than if she does. That’s why we need to move now, why the delay tactics from some of our colleaguesâ¦simply don’t serve the public interest. In this legislation, ultimately, 31 million people are going to get insurance under this legislation.”