What is the Abortion Compromise?

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In addition to getting a sweetheart deal for his home state, Ben Nelson also got Harry Reid to offer more than the Casey abortion language in the manager’s amendment. In addition to providing stronger conscience protections for medical institutions and health workers opposed to abortion, and expanding adoption tax credits, the manager’s amendment segregates funds and gives states the option of excluding from their insurance exchanges any plans that cover abortion. In essence, that allows states to adopt the strict Stupak provisions without requiring that states do so.

So is anybody happy about this compromise, other than Nelson? It’s hard to tell, because there’s been surprising silence from interest groups today, especially compared to the flurry of press releases that have accompanied previous developments. It may just be the ridiculous way this town completely ceases to function when a few snowflakes head our way (although to be fair, the Chicken Littles were actually right this time–there’s about a foot of snow in my back yard). But there are likely two other factors are at play: 1) both sides are combing through the language and conferring with allies to see if they got rolled; and 2) at least a few players are choosing to bite their tongues, even though they have concerns.

Here’s what we know: Even before the manager’s amendment was made public and Nelson’s support was revealed, two opposing groups of religious leaders had weighed in. Three dozen pro-life religious leaders, including former National Association of Evangelicals official Richard Cizik, evangelical pastor Joel Hunter, and Catholic professor Doug Kmiec, signed a statement supporting the Casey language and urging “all other pro-life people of good will to give it the careful consideration it deserves.” Later in the day, however, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo, who heads the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued his own statement arguing that the Casey language “does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them.”

The Catholic bishops have not yet responded to the manager’s amendment compromise. But Ben Smith is reporting that Bart Stupak opposes the compromise and that Stupak’s staff spent the morning emailing various players in the pro-life world to get statements of opposition to the deal. DiNardo’s statement focused on the issue of what he said would be a new precedent of allowing abortion coverage in an insurance exchange that receives some federal funding. That would appear to still be an issue under the compromise that allows states to exclude abortion coverage.

As for pro-choice groups, the National Organization for Women is attacking the compromise, even calling the legislation “the so-called health reform bill.” But the major abortion rights organizations, including NARAL and Planned Parenthood, have been surprisingly quiet. We may hear from them later today–and I’ll update if and when that happens. But I suspect their silence could also indicate that they’re not pleased with the compromise but also not interested in blowing up health reform over it. Senator Barbara Boxer has endorsed the compromise–while noting she would have preferred looser restrictions–and she would have been unlikely to do so if the choice groups hadn’t given her a tacit nod.

UPDATE: Let me amend that–at least one pro-choice group is willing to blow up health reform over the compromise. NARAL president Nancy Keenan released a statement this afternoon calling the compromise “outrageous” and vowing that the organization will “withhold support from the overall health-reform legislation until we assess the totality of provisions in the final bill that comes out of a conference committee between the House and Senate.”

UPDATE 2: And Planned Parenthood as well. So much for that whole “silently oppose” theory. From Cecile Richards: “Planned Parenthood strongly opposes the new abortion language offered by Senator Ben Nelson in the manager’s amendment. Last week, the Senate rejected harsh restrictions on abortion coverage, and it is a sad day when women’s health is traded away for one vote.”