WASHINGTON (BP)–When the House sent a sweeping health care bill to President Obama Sunday, most of the nation’s leading pro-life groups slammed it as a proposal that would liberalize the nation’s abortion laws and increase the abortion rate.
But Democrats for Life America and its executive director Kristen Day were casting a dramatically different message, arguing that the bill was not only pro-life but that the nation’s abortion rate likely would decrease.
For months, Democrats for Life had been working on the same side of organizations such as National Right to Life, the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in trying to ensure that the health care bill maintained the status quo on abortion law and did not federally fund the procedure. Yet when Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan announced a deal Sunday that lent his support if Obama pledged to sign an executive order, Democrats for Life was the only group not disappointed. It sent out a press release hours later saying it was “proud to support this historic health care legislation.”
“The goal was always to pass a health care reform bill,” Day told Baptist Press. “All these [pro-life] members and Democrats for Life supported health care reform, and the point of contention obviously was the abortion issue…. We’re proud that this health care legislation passed and we’re proud of the work that Bart did. We appreciate that the president signed this executive order that says the Hyde Amendment is the law of the land.”
The Hyde Amendment — which must be renewed annually — prevents Medicaid from funding elective abortions. President Obama signed the bill, named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law Tuesday.
Generally, groups that oppose abortion have divided into two camps in theorizing how the bill will impact the nation’s abortion rates. National Right to Life and others argue that the nation likely will see an increase in abortions because lower-income women who currently are uninsured will be able to use tax subsidies to purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortion, making the procedure affordable and more accessible. (The new law’s allowance of tax dollars to go toward insurance plans that cover elective abortions is a break from longstanding policy.) Democrats for Life, though, says the abortion rate likely will decrease because uninsured women who previously would have had an abortion for financial reasons will be less likely to do so because they and their baby now have insurance coverage.
“A lot of women don’t have health insurance,” Day told Baptist Press. “If they get pregnant, they have to choose between carrying the baby to term or having an abortion. An abortion is obviously much cheaper. So I think having health care insurance will help push the decision toward carrying the baby to term.”
The new law also could lead to fewer birth defects for the babies of lower-income women, Day said.
“I have a friend of mine who is on the board for the March of Dimes,” she said. “He says these pregnant women would come in and they would have no prenatal care and then they’d come in and have these babies who had problems. That problem will be alleviated [with prenatal care].”
Day also points to aspects of the new law that everyone in the pro-life camp can support. For instance, the law:
— appropriates $250 million over 10 years in a “Pregnancy Assistance Fund” to help high school and college women who are pregnant and don’t want an abortion.
— raises the maximum adoption tax credit by approximately $1,000 to $13,170 and also extends the sunset on the increased credit from Dec. 31, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2011, according to the Journal of Accountancy. (Adoptive families are promoting a separate bill that would make it permanent.)
Stupak, who opposes abortion rights, defended the executive order by arguing that it toughens the conscience rights of pro-life health care workers and ensures that the law’s funding for community health care centers cannot be used for elective abortions.
“I wasn’t in those internal discussions, but I feel comfortable that the pro-life Democrats who negotiated this did a good job,” Day said. “I trust their judgment.”
Other pro-life groups say the executive order could be overturned in court, leading to federal funding of abortion at the health centers. They also say Stupak should have held out for much tougher pro-life language. For instance, the amendment he supported in November — which passed the House — prevented federal dollars from going to any insurance plan that covers abortion. But the bill that Obama signed allows tax dollars to go toward such plans, as long as insurance plans segregate the money. (Enrollees must make two separate payments — one for abortion coverage and one for the premium. All enrollees in such a plan, even men, must make the payment.) Additionally, the law says that if the Hyde Amendment is ever reversed, federal dollars can go directly toward paying for elective abortions.
Day said it’s a “mistake” for pro-life groups to target Stupak and other pro-life Democrats who supported the bill. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it would no longer present him with a “Defender of Life” award it had planned to give him Wednesday. CatholicVote.com said it had rescinded its invitation for Stupak to speak at an April meeting. Many conservative groups say they want him defeated. Ironically, pro-choice and liberal groups say they’ll try to defeat him, too.
“What I’m concerned about is that there have been some pro-life groups who feel betrayed by the pro-life Democrats and they want to go out and get them out of office, which is a huge mistake, because that’s exactly what NARAL [an abortion rights group] is trying to do,” Day said. “I don’t think that’s a good strategy for the pro-life movement. A good strategy for the pro-life movement is to talk to these members and see why they supported this measure, and look to the things that we agree on. There’s a lot that we agree on in the pro-life movement. So we need to remember what united us and take our partisan hats off and move forward as a strong, united movement, and not as pro-life Democrats or pro-life Republicans, but pro-life Americans.
“… We cannot solve this problem with one party. That’s been a strategy for a long time, and it doesn’t work.”
Stupak and other Democrats who oppose abortion rights have made a big difference in their party, Day added.
“I think an aspect that is being overlooked is the strength of the pro-life Democrats within the party,” she said. “If people stop and look, we really interfered with the stranglehold that the abortion lobby has had on the party. They’re not happy with this. And so these pro-life Democrats are united like they’ve never been before.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.