WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama, who denied two days in a row abortion will be federally funded under proposed health care reform, could easily clear up the controversy by endorsing efforts to exclude the procedure from such legislation, says Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land.
In an Aug. 19 webcast call-in organized by left-leaning religious organizations, Obama said abortion would not be underwritten by the government in health care reform. Citing what he described as some “distortion[s]” about health care proposals, the president told listeners, “You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true. These are all fabrications….”
The president told supporters Aug. 20 at a health care forum at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, “There are no plans under health reform to revoke” current bans on federal money for abortion.
Major pro-life organizations responded quickly after Obama’s Aug. 19 comments, saying the president’s denial misrepresented current proposals. The bill (H.R. 3200) working its way through the House of Representatives explicitly permits a public option to fund elective abortions, they pointed out.
The conflict can be easily resolved, said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“There’s a very simple way to solve this dilemma — that is to support language that specifically excludes abortion,” Land told Baptist Press. “Pro-life Democrats, in alliance with pro-life Republicans in the House, have tried repeatedly to get such abortion-exclusionary language into the various bills that are in the Congress, and they have been rebuffed every time.
“If, as the president alleges, abortion is not to be considered a covered procedure in any government option, what’s the problem with specifically saying so by excluding it in the legislative language? I would encourage President Obama to pick up the phone and call his party’s leaders in the House and tell them to drop their opposition to specifically excluding abortion as a covered procedure in any proposed legislation,” he said.
Among the pro-life organizations that said Obama misrepresented the abortion impact of proposed health care reform were the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Family Research Council and Susan B. Anthony List.
“Public support for abortion is on decline, and the president knows that openly advancing an abortion mandate in health care reform is unpopular with the American people,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Obama’s statements conflict with the proposed legislation. Americans demand an explicit exclusion of abortion coverage, not more obfuscation and confusion from the president and his allies.”
Committees in both the House and Senate rejected efforts to exclude abortion funding from health care legislation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee defeated two amendments from Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joe Pitts, R.-Penn., on July 30-31. One would have prohibited abortion from being required as part of a basic health benefits package in government and private plans. The other would have barred federal funds from paying for an abortion or covering any part of a health plan that includes coverage of abortion.
Though the Energy and Commerce Committee rejected pro-life efforts at amending the bill, it adopted an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., that was portrayed as maintaining the current bans on federal funding of abortion. Pro-lifers described it as a “phony compromise,” however.
The amendment by Capps, a pro-choice advocate, would allow the “public health insurance option” — which would be paid for by the federal government — to fund elective abortions, as long as the funds came only from enrollee premiums. Pro-lifers call it a bookkeeping scam, being that all the money in the public plan is public money.
In a nine-page analysis, the ERLC reported the House proposal “does allow insurers to include abortion as a benefit and also allows federal money to be used for abortions.” The ERLC said the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, would undoubtedly be interpreted to mandate abortion funding.
It is not only pro-life organizations that say current health reform bills would fund abortions. The Associated Press reported in an Aug. 5 article the congressional measures would permit “a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions.”
Three House committees have approved H.R. 3200. A Senate panel has endorsed a health care reform proposal, but the Finance Committee is seeking to craft a bipartisan version. Both chambers are in recess until Sept. 8.
The ERLC’s analysis of H.R. 3200 is accessible online at www.erlc.com.
The Aug. 19 call on which Obama denied abortion funding is part of health reform was sponsored by Faith in Public Life, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PICO) and Sojourners.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. For a Q&A about the controversy over health care and abortion click here.