WASHINGTON, D.C., October 14, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In the latest victory for President Obama's health care overhaul, the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 14-9 to pass its version of the administration's plan. America's pro-life leaders are urging citizens to keep up the pressure against the bill's radical abortion expansion now that it has cleared its final congressional committee.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus will now lead discussions to mend the bill with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's version, in pursuit of a final bill that has a chance at attaining 60 votes in the full Senate. Three House bills are currently under a similar merging process.
Finance Committee member Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine on Tuesday became the first Republican to vote in favor of any version of the legislation thus far.
"When history calls, history calls," Snowe said.
Snowe's attitude toward the health care legislation has been closely watched in recent weeks as her vote on the Senate floor could make or break the President's health care plans - which face a stonewall of opposition from the rest of the GOP. Associated Press journalist Laurie Kellman reports that Snowe has received several personal phone calls from President Obama, presumably seeking her support on his top domestic priority.
However Snowe, like several moderate and conservative Senate Democrats, continues to express reservations about the bill. The Maine senator said she is wary that the public option, an idea dropped in some versions of the bill, will re-emerge in its final drafts, among other misgivings. "My vote today is my vote today," she said following the Finance vote. "It doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow."
President Obama hailed the Tuesday vote as "a critical milestone." "Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back," he said. "Now is the time to dig in and work even harder."
Pro-life leaders reacted with disappointment at the Finance Committee vote, noting that no version of the bill so far includes language that would prevent a radical alteration of U.S. federal policy on funding abortion.
"By passing a health care reform bill that mandates government funding of abortion coverage, the Senate Finance Committee has violated President Obama's promise to the American people and thumbed its nose at the 71% of Americans who oppose government funding of abortion," said David Bereit, 40 Days for Life National Director and co-founder of the Stop the Abortion Mandate Coalition.
"Regrettably, abortion industry lobbyists have successfully hijacked the health care reform debate, convincing these bureaucrats to move one step closer to handing the abortion industry a multi-billion-dollar government subsidized bailout that could jeopardize the prospects of real health care reform for the American people."
Press secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly deflected concerns over the abortion mandate by alluding to the Hyde amdendment, a Health and Human Services appropriations rider that prevents some government-appropriated funds from going to abortions. However, the Hyde amendment does not pertain to the bill's own stream of funding - which, as acknowledged by the Associated Press, Time magazine, and FactCheck.org, departs from long-standing federal policy by being explicitly open to abortion.
Following the Tuesday vote, National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson slammed the Obama administration for continuing to "advance its pro-abortion policy agenda behind smokescreens of contrived language and outright misrepresentation, aided and abetted by mostly superficial and gullible coverage by the mainstream news media."
Other leaders exhorted pro-lifers not to tire in the long-drawn-out fight against the biggest abortion expansion America has seen since Roe v. Wade.
"The health care bill is now actually in the home stretch," Connie Marshner, a leading pro-life strategist on Capitol Hill, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) in an interview last week.
"The crucial thing about all of this is that, when these votes take place, that will be the end of the game," said Marshner. "These health care bills will be creating new systems, new funding channels, new programs, new laws that cannot be amended."
"There will not be another chance to amend legislation once it is passed - this is not like the riders on the appropriations which come up every year, like the Hyde amendment," she continued. "This will be permanent legislation and once it's there, it's there."
Fr. Pavone of Priests for Life, addressing "those who are understandably weary of this health care debate," also advised pro-lifers to keep up the pressure despite the bill's unpredictable timetable.
"The process of government works very very slowly, but when it's ready to hit - in other words, when these votes are ready to be taken, we can't be starting up at that time, we gotta be prepared," Pavone told LSN. "If people have already contacted their members of Congress, now's the time to contact them all over again, because what matters in government is the perserverance of the communication.
"Send another letter, another phone call - it matters and it counts."