Sadly, so many important and complex ethical issues today seem to be seen through the lens of the abortion wars (yet another reason it is so important to have discourse on this topic far, far differently than we currently do), and health care reform is another one of them. It was not just a central issue, but THE issue down the stretch. Indeed, as Politico reports, “It had all come down to abortion”:
After a break for lunch, Reid turned to abortion. Nelson and Chief of Staff Tim Becker, who had flown in from Nebraska, set up shop in one room of Reid’s suite. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and her aides settled into another wing with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the two senators there to represent Democrats who favor abortion rights. The opposing senators never spoke with each other or sat at the same table. They negotiated through Reid and Schumer.
Through the afternoon and early evening, they appeared deadlocked. Both sides, in consultation with advocacy groups, rejected various offers. They couldn’t get beyond differences between the so-called Stupak amendment in the House bill, which would require women who receive federal subsidies for insurance to seek out a separate abortion rider, and a proposal by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) requiring policyholders to opt-out of abortion coverage. “I don’t know if we can do this,” Nelson said he told Reid at one point. “I’m running out of ideas.”
As he spent the day munching on almonds, peanuts and potato chips, Nelson said he eventually had what he described as a breakthrough. He turned over a piece of paper, and drew a line down the center. “Why don’t we have two policies?” Nelson asked. “One with and one without.” Nelson proposed that every state insurance exchange offer at least one plan that does not cover abortion, and policyholders could choose a plan with or without abortion coverage, unless states choose to ban it. Also, people who receive federal subsidies would need to write two separate checks as a way to ensure that none of the federal dollars went toward the abortion premium.
But this was not a new idea, and the pro-life groups who had supported Nelson (and had previously rejected similar ideas) were aghast. As National Right to Life pointed out, “This seems to envision a system under which the OPM director would administer multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and perhaps even possess authority to require such plans to cover elective abortions, as long as the director also ensured that there was one plan that did not cover abortions (except types of abortions also funded by the federal Medicaid program).” The idea that the federal government would subsidize and manage (and perhaps require) health insurance companies that cover abortions is unprecedented, and Senator Nelson looks like a small time legislative sell out for this 11th hour move.
But with the senate vote likely to pass tonight, this sets up a huge and dramatic conference committee process between the House and Senate in the next couple weeks. Pro-Life Democratic Representative Bark Stupak has already said that his pro-life democrat cohort will not support the Nelson compromise which means, if they are serious, the Senate bill cannot pass the House. I know I’ve beat a dead horse on this blog already about this issue, but it is worth repeating again and again: the political winds have shifted; being liberal no longer means supporting abortion rights…and it certainly doesn’t mean supporting federal funding and managing of abortion. Democrats now appear to have a huge choice to make: either pass a bill that will cover 30+ million of our most vulnerable citizens, end refusal of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and save billions of dollars in the long run–or reject the call of history and of their president and cave into the pro-abortion rights extremists of their party…leaving the bill to suffer a humiliating and unnecessary defeat. If they choose the latter, they sacrifice not only those vulnerable uninsured counting on them to succeed, but also their political future and that of their president. If they choose the former, they get on the right side of history and score a huge victory for authentic reform.
Oh, and they go a long way to ending the horrifically destructive practice of viewing virtually every issue through the lens of the abortion wars.