The Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment that would ban federal funding of abortion under the health care bill.
After days of debate, the Senate voted 54-45 to table the amendment, effectively killing the proposal that Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced to keep taxpayer dollars from paying for insurance plans that cover abortion.
Pro-life groups were swift to denounce the action.
"The vote reflects a callous disregard for the protection of innocent human life," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.
Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright commented, "Without this amendment, the health care bill will violate two of Pres. Obama's promises: that the bill will not fund abortion and that he will work to reduce abortions."
"Federal funding of abortion will increase the number of abortions and lead to higher health care costs for women who suffer complications, such as hemorrhaging, infection, subsequent premature births, and psychological issues," she added. "If more children are aborted, who will pay for this massive government entitlement when it balloons in 20 years?"
The Senate bill is now at odds with the House version, which includes the Stupak-Pitts amendment – a provision that restricts abortion coverage in public and private health plans.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released last month, found that 61 percent of the public is against the use of federal money for abortions for women who can not afford the procedure. Also, 51 percent say women who get abortions should pay the full costs out of their own pocket, even if they have private health insurance and no federal funds are involved.
"It is clear most Americans do not want abortion classified as a mandatory health care benefit," Sekulow noted. "The House understood this in passing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. Sadly, the Senate chose to ignore the concerns of the American people and refused to approve an amendment that would have put into place much-needed pro-life protections in the Senate's version of health care reform."
In the Senate, seven Democrats joined 38 Republicans in supporting the Nelson-Hatch amendment – which mirrors language in the Stupak-Pitts amendment in extending the more than 30-year federal standard disallowing public funding for abortion.
According to The New York Times, Nelson hinted that he could not support the overall health care bill with the defeat of his amendment. Without Nelson's vote, Democrats would fall at least one vote short of passage.
Pro-life groups, meanwhile, have vowed to continue efforts to oppose the health care overhaul if pro-life protections are not included.
Family Research Council announced Tuesday that it will expand its grassroots campaign by launching television ads and by surveying households in several states and asking those who express opposition to the legislation to contact their senators.