By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 17, 2009 ( – Although the full text of Sen. Bob Casey's (D-PA) proposed abortion-funding health bill compromise has not yet been released, major pro-life organizations have already called the new funds-segregation scheme “completely unacceptable” and a violation of the Hyde amendment.

Because Casey is widely regarded as one of two pro-life Democrat Senators with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), pro-lifers were concerned that Casey's amendment might be seriously considered by Nelson, who has been holding out against the bill because of its violation of the Hyde amendment.  If Nelson agreed to the compromise language, it could have been the magic bullet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been looking for to win the last vote needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the bill.

However, Sen. Nelson told a Nebraska radio station on Thursday afternoon that he does not consider the Casey amendment strong enough to earn his support.  “As it is right now, without further modifications, it isn't sufficient,” Nelson told Lincoln's KLIN radio, adding that there has been “a lot of improvement on the legislation, but the basic question on the funding of abortion has not been fully answered yet.”

National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson said Thursday in an e-mail to reporters that the new amendment was a “far cry from the Stupak amendment.”

“This proposal would break from the long-established principles of the Hyde Amendment by providing federal subsidies for health plans that cover abortion on demand. This is entirely unacceptable,” he said.  “It is particularly offensive that the proposal apparently would make it the default position for the federal government to subsidize plans that cover abortion on demand, and then permit individual citizens to apply for conscientious objector status.

“This is an exercise is cosmetics – like putting lipstick on a legislative warthog.”

In an interview with the New York Times, USCCB Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities Richard Doerflinger said that, while the bishops appreciated the goals of some of Casey's proposals, none of the proposals addressed the bill's use of taxpayer money to fund abortion-covering insurance plans. 

The bishops have vigorously and consistently rejected such funding regardless of the use of segregation schemes, as Pro-Life Chairman Cardinal Daniel DiNardo affirmed in a Dec. 13 letter to senators.  “Attempts to achieve such segregation are irrelevant to current policy, which bars federal funds from being used for any part of a package that covers elective abortions,” he wrote.

In a very similar scenario, the same pro-life leaders bluntly rejected a last-minute attempt at a funds-segregating compromise in the House of Representatives offered by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) last month.  When Ellsworth failed to find support from conservative Democrats, House leadership was forced to capitulate to the full Hyde-amendment protections presented by the Stupak amendment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Nelson continues to buck immense pressure from party leadership to vote for the bill despite the abortion funding.  Unlike the House's Rep. Stupak, who had the backing of 39 other legislators, Nelson appears to be entirely alone among Democrats in holding out for Hyde-amendment restrictions.

Following a private meeting with President Obama on Tuesday, Nelson stated that he was sticking to his guns against the bill's abortion funding, as well as other issues.  He said the meeting was his third in eight days with the President, who has tirelessly lobbied Congress to pass his health care overhaul as soon as possible.

While Obama “made a strong case for passing health care reform now,” Nelson said, “I think it still remains to be seen if it was compelling.”

“I do say if nothing is done, I'm not sure what Plan B is,” he said. “If Plan B is start over…it's quite possible that it just won't happen. It seems to me that we have a chance right now to fix a flawed bill.”

To contact Sen. Ben Nelson: