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Anti-Abortion Health Reform Amendment Defeated

One vote in the Senate Finance Committee's markup of health reform legislation should be of positive interest to progressives: the committee defeated an amendment proposed by Orrin Hatch that would have prohibited use of federal subsidies to purchase private health plans offering abortion coverage. The vote was 10-13, with Democrat Kent Conrad supporting Hatch, offset by Republican Olympia Snowe's opposition.

While Hatch's amendment was advertised as maintaining "government neutrality" on abortion, it would have actually rolled back existing abortion coverage in private plans. Moreover, as Jonathan Cohn has pointed out, the tax writeoff for employer-sponsored health plans already provides significant taxpayer subsidies for optional abortion coverage, so allowing subsidies to be used (particularly since the Baucus bill already requires segregation of public and private money for such purposes) for the same coverage doesn't really change anything.

Hatch will undoubtedly offer his amendment again on the Senate floor. And there remains the separate issue of whether any public option would offer abortion services (which didn't come up in the Finance Committee since the Baucus Bill has no public option). But the fears of some progressives that the White House or Senate Democrats would surrender on an anti-choice amendment don't seem to have been borne out so far.