Holdout Sen. Nelson rejects abortion compromise - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Holdout Sen. Nelson rejects abortion compromise

WASHINGTON (AP) - A moderate Democrat said Thursday that an attempted Senate compromise on abortion is unsatisfactory, raising doubts about whether the chamber can pass President Barack Obama's health care overhaul by Christmas.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a key holdout on the health care bill, voiced his opposition to the new abortion language in an interview with KLIN radio in Lincoln, Neb., and also made his concerns known to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Nelson's spokesman said.

"As it is right now, without further modifications, it isn't sufficient," Nelson told KLIN of the new language, which attempts to separate private from public funding for abortion, an approach that Democrats have tried in various ways without winning over anti-abortion groups or Catholic bishops.

"There's a lot of improvement on the legislation, but the basic question about funding of abortion has not been fully answered yet," Nelson said.

Nelson said abortion wasn't his only concern and he didn't see how the Christmas deadline was achievable.

The development came with Senate leaders working round the clock trying to finalize their 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill in time for a final vote on Christmas Eve. Nelson is emerging as a major obstacle - perhaps the only remaining one - since Democrats need his vote to have the 60 necessary to overcome Republican stalling tactics.

Nelson later released a statement that was more tempered in which he praised some provisions in the abortion compromise. He said he was open to additional attempts to resolve the issue and made no mention of the Christmas deadline.

"The compromise adds important new initiatives addressing teen pregnancy and tax credits to help with adoptions," Nelson said. "These are valuable improvements that will make a positive difference and promote life. But as it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient."

The abortion language was written by another anti-abortion Democrat, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, among others, and was an attempt to secure Nelson's support for the health care bill while also keeping liberals on board. It's the Democrats' latest attempt to strictly separate public and private money that could pay for abortion coverage under a remade health care system in which many lower-income people would be using federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Several previous attempts have been dismissed by Roman Catholic bishops and anti-abortion groups as accounting gimmicks, and this one looks like it will fare no better. The language has not been made public but is already drawing criticism from outside groups.

The compromise also would increase an adoption tax credit and provide new funding to help pregnant teens with alternatives to abortion, Nelson said. Another element would allow people whose insurance companies cover abortion to seek assurances that none of their premium dollars would go for that service, according to anti-abortion groups and others who've been briefed on the language.

That provision, in particular, angered anti-abortion activists.

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said that in her understanding the new language "still allows federal subsidies for plans that cover abortion on demand, which is entirely unacceptable."

"The proposed opt-out clause is particularly offensive," Schmit-Albin said. "The federal government would treat abortion on demand as if it was really health care, and then allow people to apply for status as conscientious objectors? Give me a break."

The abortion issue also threatened to derail health care legislation in the House, before Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to the demands of anti-abortion Democrats, who added stringent restrictions to the bill that infuriated liberals.

In the House bill, any health plan that receives any federal subsidies could not offer abortion coverage. The Senate language as filed - and apparently under the attempted compromise - would allow federal subsidies to go to health plans that offer abortion coverage but would attempt to ensure that only private money went for the procedures.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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