WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates in both political parties, as well as leading anti-abortion organizations, are calling for abortion coverage to be explicitly excluded from health-care reform legislation, with some warning the current proposals present the greatest threat to unborn children since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
President Obama has been pushing Congress to approve a massive overhaul of the country’s health-care system before its month-long recess, which is scheduled to begin in early August. While critics have expressed opposition on a number of fronts to the measures introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives, protests about the potential for government-subsidized abortions under the plans have mounted recently.
Several Republican House members spoke out against the abortion implications in the health-care measures at a July 14 news conference on Capitol Hill, with some charging that abortion would be mandated in not only the government-run health-care option but the private insurance plans with which it would compete. On June 25, 19 pro-life Democrats wrote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to say they would not support health-care reform “unless it explicitly excludes abortion” from any government-subsidized plan.
Pro-life organizations, meanwhile, have been sounding the alarm as well, sometimes using the name of the 1973 Supreme Court opinion that legalized abortion to demonstrate the potential repercussions of the proposals.
The versions of health-care reform approved by both Senate and House committees “would result in the greatest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said in a July 18 e-mail alert. “These bills, which President Obama is pushing hard, would result in federally mandated coverage of abortion by nearly all health plans, federally mandated recruitment of abortionists by local health networks and nullification of many state abortion laws. They would also result in federal funding of abortion on a massive scale. The pro-life movement needs to go to Condition Red on these bills, because they pose a mortal threat to the unborn and they are on a fast track to enactment.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity also has warned of the Senate bill’s failure to protect unborn children or pro-life convictions.
The public plan in the Senate version “has no conscience protections for pro-life medical practitioners who cannot in good conscience perform or facilitate abortions,” Richard Land, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s president, said in a July 9 letter to the 16 U.S. senators in the Moderate Dems Working Group. “There isn’t even any language in the bill to prevent abortion under practically any circumstance. The bill’s failure to explicitly protect these pro-life values would become a twisted mandate to ignore them.”
Pro-life foes of the reform proposals say abortion would be required in the public plan, as well as private ones.
The House bill, H.R. 3200, would authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), currently abortion rights supporter Kathleen Sebelius, or an advisory committee to mandate abortion coverage as an “essential benefit,” according to a NRLC examination released July 16. If the panel or the HHS secretary does not require such coverage, federal courts would, NRLC says.
Under the House bill, “there is no doubt that coverage of abortion will be mandated, unless Congress explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of federal authority to define ‘essential benefit[s],'” according to NRLC.
Pro-lifers point to the experience of Medicaid funding of abortion in the mid-1970s to buttress their contention. There was no mention of abortion coverage in the legislation establishing Medicaid in 1973. Abortion was funded, however, under the law until 1976, when the Hyde Amendment took effect and prohibited money from being used for the procedure under the program.
The Obama administration has given pro-life advocates little reason to doubt their analysis.
The White House’s budget director, Peter Orszag, refused July 19 to rule out abortion being underwritten by federal funds in a public insurance plan.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace asked Orszag, “Are you prepared to say that in a government public-funded, taxpayer-funded public health insurance plan that no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions?”
“I think that that will wind up being part of the debate,” Orszag said. “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.”
So far, Congress has rejected efforts to make exclusion of abortion from health reform explicit. A Senate committee and two House panels rejected efforts July 15 and 17, respectively, to adopt pro-life amendments.
“The issue here is clear — if abortion is not explicitly excluded, it is implicitly included,” Rep. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., said in the July 14 news conference of GOP House members. “The stakes are high and the implications incredibly far-reaching.
“This will affect Americans across the country throughout all walks of life,” Pitts said, according to a statement released from his office. “It will affect the insurance companies that are forced to cover abortion. It will affect the employers, who will be forced to purchase plans that cover abortion. It will affect the individuals, who are forced to pay for coverage of abortion.”
The 19 Democrats who wrote Pelosi said any plan “to mandate coverage for abortion, either directly or indirectly is unacceptable.”
“The health care reform package produced by Congress will be landmark, and with legislation as important as this, abortion must be addressed clearly in the bill text,” they wrote.
Among the signers were Southern Baptist congressmen Bobby Bright of Alabama, Travis Childers of Mississippi, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.
Among other reasons cited for opposition to current reform proposals are increased costs through taxes or premiums and the likelihood of health-care rationing.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.