Critical Condition

Yes Virginia, There Is a Pro-Life Democrat in the Senate

Following last week’s 54–45 defeat in the Senate of the pro-life amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) to prohibit government subsidy of elective abortion, Bioethics Defense Fund made this prediction of the predictable next step:

Senator Reid will likely “negotiate” a watered down (meaningless) version of the Hatch-Nelson pro-life language in his Manager’s Amendment. If Democrat Senator Nelson abides by his pledge to oppose the entire bill without the anything less than the language that just failed, then Reid may not be able to garner the 60 votes needed for final passage. Game over.

And it came to pass. “Efforts to address [Senator Nelson’s] abortion concerns advanced Wednesday as another antiabortion Democrat — Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — floated a compromise designed to strengthen guarantees that federal funds would not be used for abortion,” reported yesterday’s L.A. Times.  Senator Casey’s actions in carrying the water for Senator Reid’s pro-abortion funding plans are now under attack in ads by the Susan B. Anthony List proclaiming:

Senator Casey, trading the lives of unborn children for a health care bill is inconsistent with our American character.

The Casey proposal was rejected by Senator Nelson within 24 hours. “As it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.

Details of the failed attempt can be viewed in this AP article. In short, the rejected Casey proposal would have authorized the federal government to subsidize health-insurance plans that cover abortion under a segregation of funds scheme, and pro-life citizens would have had to apply for conscientious-objector status to opt out of the abortion coverage. 

Who is this senator that holds the future of American health care in his hands? Senator Nelson is a member of Democrats for Life of America. He has voted against his party on a host of anti-life bills including federal funding for human embryonic-stem-cell research. Senator Nelson understood full well that the Casey proposal was contrary to the policy of the Hyde amendment. The L.A. Times reports that Nelson continues to have concerns even beyond the issue of abortion funding, quoting him as saying, “It’s not something I can vote for right now.” 

Senator Reid is less likely than ever to get his Christmas wish of 60 votes on health care. And even if Reid forces the senators to work on the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, it is heartening to know that the U.S. Senate has one courageous Democrat who understands that abortion is not health care. 

— Dorinda C. Bordlee is vice president and senior counsel of Bioethics Defense Fund, and editor of

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