The health reform bill already prohibits the government from including abortion coverage among the benefits that insurers must include in health plans sold on the newly created government health insurance exchange. The worry is that government subsidies to private insurance premiums might somehow end up paying for abortions because participating private insurers may have decided on their own to cover abortions. ( About half of all employer-provided policies do .) Even this dire possibility is prohibited under the bill's current language, because insurers are required to segregate public subsidies from the money they use to pay for abortions.
Because of Snowe's vote, the amendment, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, went down 10-13 (Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad voted for it.) But that doesnt mean, of course, that abortion isn't still a thorn in health reform's side. Will Saletan argues that the pro-choice side is meeting its libertarian maker. "Keep your hands off my body" translates straight to "Keep the bureaucrats off my health care." In other words, the right is using the libertarian argument to bolster the case for private insurance. I don't really buy it: I see the connection, but it seems attenuated and abstract to me. If abortion torpedos health care reform, it will be because of old-fashioned abortion politics, it seems to me. Conservatives will have found the wedge they need to peel off the votes. In the end, you gotta think this will fail, since some of those pro-life votes are Democrats, and losing on health care is supposed to be party suicide. But we'll see. In the meantime, today's vote has to be a comfort for the White House.