The Senate rejected an effort by abortion opponents to tighten restrictions in the healthcare overhaul bill on taxpayer dollars for the procedure, but it was unlikely to be the last word on the divisive issue.
By a vote of 54-45, the Senate sidetracked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would ban any insurance plan getting taxpayer dollars from offering abortion coverage. The restrictions mirrored provisions in the House-passed healthcare bill.
The Senate bill currently allows insurance plans to cover abortions, but requires that they can only be paid for with private money. The legislation calls for insurance plans that would receive federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace to strictly separate public funds from private dollars that would be used to pay for abortion.
“As our bill currently reads, no insurance plan in the new marketplace, whether private or public, would be allowed to use public funds for abortion,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The Senate vote—hailed as a victory by abortion rights supporters—could complicate prospects for President Barack Obama’s health overhaul.
It’s unclear whether Reid can pass his bill without the votes of Democratic abortion opponents. Seven Democrats supported the stiffer restrictions, while two Republicans—Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe—voted with the Democrats. In the House, anti-abortion Democrats have threatened to vote against any final bill that dilutes the restrictions already approved in their bill.