Health Care Reform Bill Clears 1st Senate Hurdle

The U.S. Senate voted along party lines Saturday to move forward with health care legislation that pro-lifers say would create the largest expansion of abortion since the 1970s.

The 60-39 vote cleared the way for a full-scale debate on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," which seeks dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade and extend health care coverage to the roughly 31 million who lack it.

While Democrats say their legislation could make historic and necessary improvements in the country's social safety net, critics say the bill – with a price tag of around $979 billion over a decade – will increase taxes and raise medical costs rather than lower them.

Pro-lifers, meanwhile, point to the bill's inclusion of government funding for elective abortion as the "most onerous and morally objectionable" item among several others.

They say that Sen. Reid's bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to include elective abortion in the public option and subsidize health plans in the government run exchange that cover elective abortion. It also reportedly undermines conscience protections for pro-life health plans and doctors.

"Instead of including the bipartisan Stupak-Pitts amendment passed in the House to prevent this government expansion of abortion, Senator Reid included a watered down version of the Capps provision which would flood the coffers of the abortion industry," noted Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

"The Senate should instead adopt the Stupak-Pitts language which would maintain the status quo first established over 30 years ago," added the Catholic pro-life leader.

According to recent polls, more than 60 percent of Americans are opposed to the bill's provisions that critics say will expand abortion in America with federal dollars.

Notably, however, a new Pew Research Center survey found this past week that only three percent of Americans raised the issue of government-funded abortions as the main reason why they oppose the health proposals currently before Congress.

At the top of the list were complaints that the bills are too expensive/will increase deficit and taxes (27 percent) and allow too much government involvement in health care (27 percent).

Still, though abortion coverage may not be the main reason why Americans oppose the proposals, Pew noted that 56 percent of health reform opponents cite the abortion issue as one of the major factors for their disapproval.

Of the religious groups polled, evangelical Protestants (74 percent) and white Catholics (72 percent) were particularly likely to say abortion funding was a major reason for their opposition. However, these groups also cited the expansion of government involvement as a major factor.