Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee haven't heard the news that more Americans call themselves pro-life than pro-choice, according to the Gallup organization.
Yesterday, in a 13-10 vote, every Democrat but one, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, opposed an amendment to health care legislation that would have codified a ban on abortion with exceptions. Conversely, every Republican but one, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, supported the amendment, which was offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the committee, argued that his bill already prohibits abortion with exceptions; but Senator Hatch aimed to make the restrictions permanent, rather than being subject to annual debate and vote in funding bills.
As disappointing as this was, even more so was a similar vote against a conscience clause provision protecting health care personnel who object to abortions on moral grounds.
Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol's widow, wrote an insightful book entitled, One Nation, Two Cultures (1999). Seeing an almost perfect party-line vote on issues which, on their face, should not be partisan matters, i.e., the humanity and protection of unborn children and the rights of conscience, it is apparent that American politics has now come into alignment with the nation's underlying cultural dynamic, which exhibits polarization between a culture of life and another that values personal autonomy to the exclusion of morality, tradition, and even the right to life of another human being, albeit one out of sight for nine months.
It is interesting to speculate what impact, if any, this vote will have on health care legislation generally. Is it another straw on a camel's back already weighed down with high costs, taxes, fear over "rationing," and general concern over the federal government's role in medicine?
In fairness, the defeat of various public health care options in recent committee votes may be just another example of a cultural phenomenon as much as a political one. However, the matter of a public-plan option is really more of a prudential issue, one subject to legitimate, if heated, political debate. But the protection of human life or, at a minimum, the conscience of those who are being forced to perform abortions against their wills, should be beyond the Pale.
There is, of course, political utility in forcing the Democrats to defend the indefensible. The country may be closely divided on abortion per se, but less so on commandeering tax dollars to subsidize the practice or violate the conscience of health care professionals who opt for life. In some jurisdictions a senator could pay a steep price in the next election. But that is small comfort for unborn Americans.