NELSON SIGNALS FLEXIBILITY ON ABORTION RESTRICTIONS…. Almost immediately after the House approved health care reform with the Stupak amendment on abortion, attention turned to the Senate. Given that such expansive restrictions would not be part of the bill that’s sent to the floor, and the fact that there wouldn’t be 60 votes to add it to the legislation, the Stupak language wasn’t going anywhere.

The problem, though, was Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the most conservative Democrat in the chamber. Nelson, who opposes abortion rights, was apparently “pleased” with the Stupak amendment, and was reportedly “highly unlikely” to vote for reform unless it includes language to “clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to abortion.”

Nelson’s opposition would become a difficult hurdle to clear. Democrats couldn’t add the Stupak amendment without losing pro-choice votes, but if Democrats didn’t add the Stupak language, Nelson could help kill the entire effort.

Fortunately, late yesterday, Nelson seemed to come around.

[Nelson] now says he would be satisfied with the less restrictive language approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

Nelson’s position is apt to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is trying to cobble together a health care bill — which is full of policy mine fields such as abortion — without losing the support of any Democrats, many of whom support abortion rights, while others, like Nelson, do not.

At issue is whether federal money that is used to subsidize health insurance premiums can be separated from private funds to pay for abortions. In the Senate language, that would be allowed. In the House language, it would not.

Nelson said his position has been consistent, but said he misunderstood a reporter’s question on the issue last week.

Now, you’ll notice that CNN’s report didn’t include any direct quotes — only paraphrases. With that in mind, it’s probably best to be optimistic, but not overly so until Nelson makes a firm commitment.

But if the CNN report is accurate, it’s very good news. If the Senate Democrats’ leading pro-life members — including Harry Reid, Bob Casey, and Ben Nelson — all agree that existing restrictions on abortion funding are adequate, and that the Stupak language is unnecessary, then it seems far more likely that the abortion fight will not derail the reform effort in the Senate.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.