A strong new endorsement of the Democrats' health reform bill from within the pro-life community could help shift some momentum in its favor among lingering anti-abortion holdouts.
In a major break from the Conference of Catholic Bishops, "[s]ome 60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns Wednesday sent lawmakers a letter urging them to pass the Senate health care bill," The Associated Press reported.
The letter says that "despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions." It claims "the real pro-life stance" would be to back the bill as it benefits pregnant women.
The question of subsidizing abortion coverage in the legislation has been a highly divisive issue among Democrats, motivating some House members to strip their support for the package.
This development illustrates the split among anti-abortion groups over whether the restrictions in the bill are strong enough. By concluding that the language is acceptable, the nuns join the Catholic Health Association in endorsing the effort, while the bishops and the National Right to Life Committee remain opposed.
The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen declared that the news adds to the "abundance of political cover...for pro-life Democrats" to get behind the effort. He adds that "the Senate language has also been written and endorsed by prominent pro-life Democrats like Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)."
Around the same time as the letter was unveiled on Wednesday, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat affirmed that he will vote in favor of the bill. "On balance, it does what we need to do," explained Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Politico reported.
Spearheading the effort to stiffen up abortion restrictions was Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who last week told The National Review he's now a "definite 'no'" on the bill after the party rebuffed his demands. He joins the GOP in insisting the restrictions are insufficient.
President Obama and Democratic leaders have said they have no intention of altering the nation's abortion laws in this bill. "There is no federal funding of abortion," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week, insisting the bill contains "no increase or diminishment" in a woman's right to choose.
According to a well-sourced and ongoing whip count by the liberal FireDogLake, there are currently 10 House Democrats leaning against the bill due to its purportedly inadequate abortion restrictions.
The overall margins in the chamber are extremely narrow, with Democrats just a handful short of the votes they need to push it past the finish line. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-OH) announcement Wednesday morning that he will support the effort boosted its prospects.