WASHINGTON — By declaring he will vote for the Senate health care bill, Ben Nelson Touched off a Firestorm of Criticism Saturday on Abortion.
Nebraska Right to Life said it had been “betrayed'' by the Nebraska Democrat, long an abortion opponent, who agreed to support compromise language on abortion.
His home-state colleague, Republican Mike Johanns, said he was “stunned and incredibly disappointed'' by Nelson's decision. And the chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party, Mark Fahleson, vowed that it was the “death knell'' for Nelson's political career.
Nelson said the outcry was over what amounted to a distinction without a difference on abortion.Under the compromise bill, individual states could decide to ban any insurance plans with abortion coverage from the new exchanges set up in that state.
A mechanism also would be established, Nelson said, to segregate funds used to pay for abortions from federal subsidy dollars flowing to health plans.
“I'm respectful of the other position,'' Nelson said. “I just don't think that it's a distinction that matters, because what really matters is the separation, segregation, of the money.”
Nelson said the compromise would keep federal dollars from funding elective abortions. Abortion opponents were not persuaded.
“There is no pro-life Nebraskan more devastated by Senator Nelson's actions than myself,'' said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life. “I have defended his record to Nebraskans and believed that he would stand on pro-life principles as he has on numerous occasions in the past. … It is a very sobering day for myself personally and for pro-lifers across Nebraska and the nation.”
Federal law, known as the Hyde amendment, prohibits public money for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
All along, Congress has been wrangling with how to extend those restrictions to the new federal funding for health insurance included in the bill.
Nelson had pushed for House-approved restrictions that would have required policyholders to purchase a separate abortion coverage “rider” if they were purchasing a plan that accepted any federal subsidies. His amendment to include that language in the Senate bill was soundly defeated.