And The Abortion Stalemate Continues

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The Senate Finance Committee just voted on two amendments offered by Senator Orrin Hatch that form the heart of what Senate Republicans say they would need to make health reform what they call “abortion neutral.” (Whether they would vote for health reform even if their demands were met on abortion, is a question they decline to answer, as Chris Matthews learned yesterday.)

The two Hatch amendments were linked–one stated that state insurance exchanges could not be required to offer plans that cover abortion, and the other allowed plans to give consumers the option (as they do now) to purchase with their own money riders that would cover abortion. Hatch framed the first using the language of conscience clauses, arguing that people should not be forced to take part in abortion procedures if they believe abortion is wrong. But that, of course, is not the issue at play in requiring that the plans in state insurance exchanges include both those that cover abortion and those that do not. It would be an issue if a senator offered a pro-choice version of Hatch’s amendment, allowing state exchanges to provide no option for those who want a health care plan that doesn’t cover abortion. Hatch’s amendment, however, would simply have given states leeway to restrict abortion by excluding plans from the exchange that cover abortion.

In any case, both amendments went down, largely along party lines. Kent Conrad voted with Republicans on the exchange amendment, and Olympia Snowe joined her Democratic colleagues on both, complaining especially that the rider amendment would fail to help many women who seek abortions because “most of these pregnancies that result in abortions are unplanned pregnancies.”

It’s worth noting that Snowe’s position as a potential swing vote complicates matters for Democrats when it comes to addressing pro-life concerns about health care reform proposals. On the House side, Democratic leaders have to worry about the 40 pro-life members of their own caucus who have pledged not to support a health care bill that subsidies abortion. But tightening wording and restrictions to please those House Democrats runs the risk of alienating Snowe, a strong supporter of abortion rights.