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In Senate health care standoff, pro-lifers place hopes on Ben Nelson

WASHINGTON (BP)–In the effort to see the Senate health care bill changed to include pro-life language, anti-abortion groups are increasingly pinning their hopes on U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, who traditionally has been an ally of the pro-life community and who has said he will not support the bill in its current state.

Nelson — who was endorsed by Nebraska Right to Life during his 2006 re-election campaign — likely will be at the center of nationwide attention in the coming days as Democratic leaders try to come up with anti-abortion language that would satisfy him. With 60 members in the Democratic caucus and with 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, Nelson may well be the final vote needed to move the bill forward.

Nelson and the nation’s major pro-life groups say the health care bill, as it is currently worded, will result in taxpayer funding of abortion. He sponsored an amendment that was defeated and which would have barred federal funding of abortion in the bill. The amendment mirrored one that passed easily in the House sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich.

The spotlight on Nelson likely will only intensify as Democrats work to change the bill to appease Sen. Joe Lieberman, I.-Conn., who said Sunday he was opposed to the bill’s expansion of the Medicare system to include those 55 and older.

Nelson, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, made clear his position.

“I said I can’t support the bill with the abortion language that’s there,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, the Nelson-Hatch amendment failed…. But I do know that there are some who are, right now, trying to find language that might be compatible with the Stupak language in the House. That’s a tall order for people. And I’m not prescribing ahead what they may be able to do.”

Asked again if he would support the bill only if the abortion language was changed, Nelson replied, “Exactly. Exactly.” He previously told other media outlets that he would support a filibuster.

Nelson has a 100 percent pro-life voting record in the current Congress, according to National Right to Life. He was endorsed by Nebraska Right to Life in 2006 over the objections of some pro-lifers in the state who felt the organization should issue a co-endorsement. Nebraska Right to Life noted Nelson’s votes to confirm President Bush’s two Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, as well as Nelson’s opposition to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill.

“We appreciate Senator Nelson’s commitment to pro-life principles,” Denise Ashby of Nebraska Right to Life said at the time.

If Democrats are unsuccessful in wooing Nelson, they likely would try to attract the vote of Sen. Olympic Snowe of Maine, one of the more liberal Republicans in the Senate. She is pro-choice and opposed Nelson’s amendment.

The Nelson amendment would have done two things: 1) prevent a government-run public option from covering abortion and 2) prohibit federal subsidies for lower-income people from purchasing private plans that cover abortion. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life. A woman would be permitted to use her own money to purchase a “rider” that covers abortion.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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