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Pro-life Democrats let down movement, leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life leaders expressed disappointment with Senate Democrats who advocate protecting unborn children after the upper chamber voted Nov. 21 to move forward with a health-care bill that authorizes federal funds for abortion.

With all Democrats in support, the Senate voted 60-39 to invoke cloture and bring Majority Leader Harry Reid’s legislation to the floor for debate. Reid, from Nevada, needed 60 votes to prevent his 2,074-page bill from being blocked from consideration. He reached his target when all 58 senators of his party and two independents who caucus with the Democrats supported his effort. All Republican senators, except one who was absent, opposed the move.

Reid’s procedural victory means the Senate will begin debate Nov. 30 in an attempt to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act in December.

Unlike the measure approved by the House of Representatives in early November, Reid’s bill allows federal funds for abortions in a government-managed public option program and for subsidies of the procedures in private plans. A “nay” vote by any Democrat — including solid pro-life advocate Ben Nelson of Nebraska or sporadic pro-lifers Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana –- would have killed the current bill with its abortion-funding authorization.

“It’s gravely disappointing that pro-life Democrats in the Senate failed to show the same courage and conviction shown by their counterparts” in the House, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

“Their first opportunity to defend life was on the motion to proceed,” she said in a written statement. “Their last chance will be on the final cloture vote to end debate. A vote to close debate without the addition of strong pro-life language will be a vote for government-funded abortion. That would be the ultimate betrayal of pro-life constituents and even self-described pro-choice Americans who oppose government-funded abortion.”

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, described the Senate action as a “pro-abortion vote.”

“There was no more important time for legislators to show their support for life than by leveraging their power now to demand that any health care reform bill genuinely respects life…. This legislation moves us toward redefining abortion as health care which is the ultimate objective of the abortion lobby led by Planned Parenthood,” Yoest said in a written release.

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said, “The burden to protect taxpayers and the unborn from a massive expansion of abortion, as provided for in this bill, now rest[s] upon the shoulders of Senators Nelson and Casey. It is imperative that they stand on principle.”

The Senate language on abortion is similar to that in the House bill before pro-life Democrats joined Republicans to amend it to prohibit government coverage of the procedure in the public option and federal subsidies for lower-income people in private insurance plans that cover abortions. Sixty-four Democrats joined 176 Republicans in voting 240-194 for the pro-life amendment by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land expressed his displeasure with the Senate bill.

“When you compare the current Senate bill to scriptural principles embodied in the Baptist Faith and Message and in the ERLC’s fifteen principles of health-care reform, it is a fatally flawed bill — fatal in that it does not provide sufficient protections for unborn human life and would use public money to underwrite the abortion of unborn citizens,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“In addition, the draconian cuts in Medicare would lead at the very least to delayed care for many of our elderly citizens, and delayed care with senior citizens often results in fatally denied care,” Land told Baptist Press. “The draconian cuts in Medicare certainly do not meet the Ten Commandments’ standard of honoring thy father and thy mother.”

The Baptist Faith and Message is the statement of faith adopted by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000. The ERLC’s 15 principles of health-care reform are available online at www.erlc.com.

In a Nov. 20 letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 12 other senators, Land urged them to vote against invoking cloture. As reasons for opposing the bill, he cited not only the abortion-funding provisions but its lack of protection for the conscience rights of health-care workers, the government-managed plan’s likelihood of driving private insurers out of business and causing some Americans to lose their present insurance, the possibility of rationing of health care, and its “troublesome” cost.

Land’s letter went to Landrieu and Nelson, as well as Sens. Evan Bayh, D.-Ind.; Susan Collins, R.-Maine; Kent Conrad, D.-N.D.; Byron Dorgan, D.-N.D.; Joseph Lieberman, I.-Conn.; Blanche Lincoln, D.-Ark.; Claire McCaskill, D.-Mo.; Mark Pryor, D.-Ark.; Olympia Snowe, R.-Maine, and Mark Warner, D.-Va.

Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln and Nelson all have objected to the government-run plan in Reid’s bill, according to The Washington Post.

A poll released Nov. 23 showed only 38 percent of Americans support the plan advocated by President Obama and congressional Democrats, according to Rasmussen Reports. That figure is the lowest in polls since surveys on the proposal began in June. Rasmussen’s poll, taken before the Senate vote, found 56 percent of the public opposed the Democratic-backed measure.

The Senate’s Nov. 21 vote came the same week polls were released showing solid majorities of Americans oppose federal funding of abortion in health-care legislation.

A CNN poll found adults are against “using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it” by a 61-37 percent margin. A CBS News poll showed that by a 56-34 percent margin Americans say insurance plans should not cover abortion “if the federal government provides subsidies or credits to help people buy health insurance.”

In unveiling his health-care proposal Nov. 18, Reid said it would reduce the deficit by $130 billion, expand coverage to 94 percent of Americans and provide insurance for 31 million people who are now uninsured — while costing an estimated $848 billion over 10 years.

The GOP’s McConnell countered by saying Reid’s reforms, which would not take effect until 2014, will cost $2.5 trillion over 10 years when completely implemented, cut Medicare by $465 billion and increase taxes by $493 billion.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.