After yielding some of my time to C-SPAN to watch the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of the healthcare bill, I’m happy to report that the first two antiabortion amendments to come up for a vote were soundly defeated.

Both were Senator Orrin Hatch’s ideas. One, the so-called conscience clause, would have expanded existing “opt-out” law, allowing entire insurance companies to refuse to cover abortion on principle. The other would have done away with the Solomonic dodge of the problem of abortion funding proposed in both the Senate and House bills, in which government funds are kept separate from private premiums–and only the private funds used to pay for abortions. Instead, if Hatch had had his way, no insurance company participating in the healthcare exchange would have been allowed to cover abortion.

Both amendments failed by a three-vote margin, with only pro-choice Olympia Snowe and Kent Conrad crossing party lines to oppose them. Supporters of choice might want to send thank-you notes to Senators Debbie Stabenow and Maria Cantwell for their particularly impassioned opposition to the measures. Cantwell called Hatch’s attempt to eliminate abortion coverage by insurers in the exchange “an unprecedented restriction on people paying for their own health care insurance.”

Noting the potential for abortion politics to further embitter the process, Cantwell dubbed the amendment: “a poison pill for [the healthcare] bill if it is hung on this legislation.”

For more background on antichoice amendments, read my previous article “Healthcare Reform–at the Price of Women’s Health?“.