The Senate refused to exclude abortion coverage from federal workers' health plans Tuesday

The Associated Press

 WASHINGTON, August 3 -- The Senate refused to exclude
abortion coverage from federal workers' health plans Tuesday,
as the chamber's five Democratic women used a parliamentary
tactic to muster a narrow victory for abortion rights forces.

 Voting 51-48, the Senate turned back a bid by Sen. Don
Nickles, R-Okla., to offer an amendment that would have banned
abortion coverage for federal workers except when the woman's
life was at stake or in cases of rape or incest.

 The vote came on whether the amendment was "germane" to the
House-passed bill at issue, a $22.3 billion spending bill to
fund the Treasury Department and the Postal Service.

 In a coordinated effort, the women congregated at the front
of the chamber and corralled their male colleagues as they
walked onto the floor. In case Republicans tried again, the
women -- taking turns each hour -- stood guard on the floor
for the rest of the day.

 The Senate was just starting to debate the amendment when
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., made a motion that Nickles
language was not germane because it was adding legislation
to an appropriations bill.

 That move allowed Mikulski to pick up the votes of some
senators who are sticklers about Senate rules, but aren't
necessarily rock-solid on abortion rights issues, such as
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

 For that reason, Mikulski declined to call it a test vote
on how the Senate would vote in future abortion battles.

 Mikulski said afterwards the women "were not trying to use
strong-armed tactics." Rather, Mikulski said, she wanted to
have hearings and "robust debate" on the abortion question.
"There will be other opportunities" to debate the issue, she

 Nickles agreed, promising to force the debate on a
House-passed bill to ban Medicaid abortions and also on
President Clinton's coming health care plan.