By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 23, 2009 ( – Thanks to last-minute deals cut by Senate leadership to win over a handful of conservative Democrat holdouts, the Senate health care overhaul squeezed through a procedural vote Saturday evening – a crucial step that allowed the chamber to begin discussion on the abortion-expanding health care overhaul.

60 Democrats voted the bill through, overcoming a filibuster effort by 39 Republicans.  Ohio Republican George Voinovich was absent and thus did not vote.

Although a small handful of Democrats indicated late in the game that they would vote against the motion to proceed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrat whips managed to change their mind with various last-minute offers.  One such deal, offered to Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, granted her home state at least an extra $100 million in federal money in return for a yes vote. 

The two most “pro-life” of the Senate Democrats, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, also voted to open debate.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill violates long-standing federal policy against funding abortion with a public health care option that would fund elective abortions with government-appropriated monies.  The bill would also allow taxpayer subsidies to flow to insurance plans that cover elective abortions. 

The White House threw its weight behind the Reid bill Friday evening in an Office of Management and Budget statement, saying that the legislation “meets the president's criteria for health insurance reform.”

Debate on the bill is expected to begin the week of November 30.

Pro-life and conservative leaders reacted strongly against the weekend vote, heavily criticizing moderate Democrats for caving to pressure on the dangerous bill.

“Forcing Americans to buy government approved health care insurance is arguably unconstitutional. Forcing Americans to fund abortion within the government plan is without question unconscionable,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Perkins pointed out recent public opinion polls show Americans against the bill's abortion provisions, which he said “would create the largest expansion of abortion since the 1970s.”

“It was disappointing to see pro-life Senators Bill Nelson (D-NE) and Bob Casey (D-PA) vote to advance a bill that will vastly expand abortion in America with federal dollars,” Perkins continued.  “The burden to protect taxpayers and the unborn from a massive expansion of abortion, as provided for in this bill, now rest upon the shoulders of Senators Nelson and Casey. 

“It is imperative that they stand on principle.”

Americans United for Life Action President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest promised to score Saturday's votes in favor of cloture on the abortion-expanding bill as pro-abortion votes.

“This was a pro-abortion vote tonight because this bill provides for an unprecedented expansion of federally-funded abortion,” said Yoest. 

“Supporters argued that the debate needed to move forward – but life should be at the heart of any health care reform,” she continued.  “There was no more important time for legislators to show their support for life than by leveraging their power now to demand that any health care reform bill genuinely respects life.”

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser called it “gravely disappointing that pro-life Democrats in the Senate failed to show the same courage and conviction shown by their counterparts in the House of Representatives.”

“Votes have consequences, and if this health care bill makes it to conference committee without an authentic abortion exclusion, Senators Casey, [Arkansas Senator Blanche] Lincoln, Nelson and Reid will be held especially accountable,” she said.

“This key vote will come back to haunt many of these senators,” agreed Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright.

See related coverage:

Cloture Vote Expected Saturday on Senate Health Bill USCCB Calls “Worst So Far”

6 out of 10 of Americans Oppose Public Funding of Abortion 

Pro-Abortion Lawmakers Shower Praise on Senate Bill's Phony Abortion Compromise