Senate Democratic leadership has delegated to Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) the task of winning over Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), in an attempt to secure the sixty votes necessary to prevent the fillibuster of the healthcare reform bill. Nelson, a longtime reproductive rights opponent, has threatened to join the Republicans in blocking the healthcare reform vote and is demanding that extreme anti-abortion language be added to the bill.
Last week, Nelson attempted to virtually ban insurance coverage for abortion through the Nelson/Hatch amendment, which mirrored the extreme language of the House bill’s Stupak/Pitts Amendment. The Nelson/Hatch Amendment was defeated on December 8th by a vote of 54-45. A statement from Nelson’s office indicated that the proposed compromise from Casey includes “new teen pregnancy initiatives and tax credits for adoption,” but does not include the extreme language banning abortion that Nelson has demanded.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which played an unprecedented role in dictating the terms of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the House, continues to lead the anti-abortion charge in the Senate. Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman for the Conference, told the New York Times that the bishops were in favor of many of Casey’s proposals, but that they will not be satisfied until Nelson/Hatch-style language is added to the bill. The Catholic Church runs the largest adoption and foster care system in the United States. Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, reacting to the overt role the Bishops have played in the healthcare negotiations, said “This fight has exposed the raw power of the Catholic Bishops to dictate the healthcare options for all American women, whether Catholic or not.”