The missing motivation

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee Holds Weekly Meeting

When the House of Representatives passed the Stupak amendment preventing federal tax dollars from being used to fund or subsidize abortions, it was hard to find a story that didn't mention the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That group, and several other organizations that oppose abortion, had worked for months to ensure passage of such an amendment. We'd been encouraging more reportage on abortion funding for months. But when the drama in the House happened, where they only passed the overall legislation because the Stupak amendment passed, I figured we'd see some good coverage of abortion politics as we moved to the Senate. Last week the Senate had a vote on a similar amendment. A story from Dec. 7 in The Hill tells us:

The Senate took a crucial step toward a showdown on abortion with the introduction of an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and nine other anti-abortion-rights senators. ...

[Dem. Sen. Bob] Casey, Nelson and other lawmakers worked closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to come up with language that would meet the church's requirements. In a letter sent to all 100 senators Monday, the bishops endorse the Nelson amendment.

Well, the amendment failed to pass. And that could pose problems for overall passage of the health care bill. The Washington Post ran a big story on the amendment's sponsor, headlined:

A senator's moral dilemma on health bill Nelson's stand against abortion complicates support for reform

And the article is really interesting, going through the senator's stance on abortion. Reporter Paul Kane paints Nelson as a middle-ground compromiser who won't compromise on one thing: abortion. He says he won't vote for the legislation unless the issue is resolved to his satisfaction. Nelson has been beyond clear on this point, as in this interview with CNN Anderson Cooper.

The Washington Post story makes it seem as if Nelson's stance has more to do with voter pressure than personal conviction:

Nelson has always been a staunch opponent of abortion, fully aware of how the issue colored the politics of his conservative-leaning state. As governor, Nelson signed into law strict parental notification laws and a ban on partial-birth abortions, as they are known by opponents, that was deemed the toughest in the nation, leading to a Supreme Court battle.

Even those credentials weren't sufficient to win full support from the antiabortion community in his first two Senate races, the first a loss in 1996 and the second a narrow victory in 2000. In both of those races, Nelson had large leads that evaporated in the final weeks as some antiabortion groups urged Christian conservatives to oppose having another Democrat in the Senate.

Now maybe the power of the popular vote is all that matters here. Certainly popular pro-life sentiment had a lot to do with so many Democrats voting for the Stupak amendment. But in the 1000-word article, there's not one word about Nelson's Methodist faith. It seems that an article about a senator's moral dilemma might look in some small part at what motivates his pro-life stance. And such an exploration should at the very least touch on whether religion plays a role.

Please respect our Commenting Policy