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WASHINGTON – Abortion opponents in the Senate are seeking tough restrictions in the health care overhaul bill, a move that could roil a shaky Democratic effort to pass President Barack Obama’s signature issue by year’s end.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said Monday it’s unlikely he could support a bill that doesn’t clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to pay for abortions. His spokesman said Nelson is weighing options, including offering an amendment that’s similar to the one passed by the House.
The House-passed restrictions were the price Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had to pay to get a health care bill passed, on a narrow 220-215 vote. But it’s prompted an angry backlash from liberals, some of whom are now threatening to vote against a final bill if the curbs stay in.
Senate Democrats will need Nelson’s vote – and those of other abortion opponents in their caucus – to prevail in what’s likely to be a grueling debate against Republicans who are unified in their opposition.
“This is a very important issue to Sen. Nelson, and it is highly unlikely he would support a bill that doesn’t clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to abortion,” said his spokesman, Jake Thompson.
An intraparty fight over abortion is the last thing that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., needs. Reid is already facing a revolt among moderates over the government-sponsored health plan that liberals want to incorporate in the legislation as a competitor to private insurance companies.
Reid, who is himself opposed to abortion, will have to face the issue directly as he puts together a Democratic bill for floor consideration. The committee-passed Senate versions differ on abortion, but none would go as far as the restrictive amendment passed by the House.
The House bill would bar the new government insurance plan from covering abortions, except in cases or rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger. It would also prohibit health plans that receive federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage. Insurers, however, could sell separate coverage for abortion, which individuals would have to purchase entirely with their own funds.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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