Senate Prepares to Engage in Abortion Debate

The U.S. Senate was expected to begin debate Monday on an amendment that would bar federally subsidized health insurance plans from covering abortion.

 The amendment, introduced by pro-life Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson, seeks to add language to the Senate health care bill similar to the Stupak amendment in the House bill, which barred the use of federal funding for "any health plan [public or private] that includes coverage of abortion," except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the woman's life.

Though the passage of the Stupak amendment was hailed last month by conservatives as a "huge pro-life victory," some liberals say the proposed restrictions go too far and President Obama said he wanted to adjust the language so that "neither side feels that it's being betrayed."

"I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test – that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices," Obama said in an interview with ABC News last month.

The president made similar remarks in an interview the following week with Fox News.

 On Sunday, Obama made a rare visit to the Capitol, urging Senate Democrats in a 45-minute closed-door speech to make history by overhauling the nation's health care system, even if some of them might face angry voters.

Sen. Nelson told The Associated Press that he doesn't expect a vote on his amendment before Tuesday, and at the moment, the amendment appears unlikely to gain the necessary 60 votes in the 100-member Senate.

Last Thursday, the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that mandates coverage of any preventive care or screenings for women by the Health Resource and Services Administration, such as mammograms.

While some pro-life groups, such as Americans United for Life, said they strongly support coverage for preventive care, many say there must be clear language prohibiting abortion from being included in the HRSA list.

Pro-life groups warned that if the HRSA were to recommend abortion as preventive care, then insurance plans would have to cover the procedure since there is no clear prohibition of such coverage.

"Because [the] bill as written has no exclusion for abortion in its language, there is no doubt that Sen. Mikulski's amendment opens the floodgates to massive public underwriting of abortion, a position Planned Parenthood has always favored," commented Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.

"Without the adoption of 'Stupak-Pitts' amendment language in the Senate version of the bill, it's now very clear that taxpayers will be forced to pay for abortions," he contended.

Following Obama's Capitol Hill appearance Sunday, Senate Democrats will seek to move the nation closer to embracing health care legislation this week by tackling the contentious issue of abortion.

To pass the bill, Democrats will have to either woo pro-life Democrats such as Nelson or moderate Republicans such as Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine

Snowe reportedly met with Obama at the White House on Saturday.