WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives appears poised to vote on health-care legislation that includes a so-called pro-life compromise opponents of abortion say is bogus.
The House may vote as early as Saturday on the Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962. The bill of about 2,000 pages in length includes a “public health insurance option,” managed by the federal government, that would authorize funds for elective abortions and a federal subsidy program for private plans that cover abortion.
In addition, enrollees in the “public option” would be required to pay for abortion, House Republican Leader John Boehner warns.
Pro-life Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, have threatened to block the measure unless the House leadership allows a floor vote on an amendment that would bar federal funds from paying for abortions in both the public and private plans. As recently as a week ago there had been indications they had just enough votes to block passage of the measure by defeating what is known as “the rule” that governs consideration of the legislation.
Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D.-Ind., has stepped in to offer an amendment that reportedly will be included in the bill under the rule by which the Democratic leadership plans to bring the legislation to the floor. That rule, which may be voted on Nov. 6 or 7, is not expected to permit a vote on the pro-life amendment proposed by Stupak and Rep. Joe Pitts, R.-Pa.
Ellsworth, who has had a nearly perfect pro-life voting record since entering the House in 2007, said he is seeking “to ensure pro-life concerns are addressed” in the bill. House pro-life leaders, as well as anti-abortion organizations, criticized Ellsworth’s amendment as a sham, saying it fails to address any pro-life concerns. His solution to the problem with the “public option,” they said, is to have the federal government hire private contractors to disburse funds for abortions.
Ellsworth’s proposal is a “phony amendment designed to subsidize and expand the abortion industry cloaked in deceptive language,” Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said in a written statement. “Under the new arrangement, instead of [a Health and Human Services] employee issuing blood money checks for elective abortions, HHS will pay a contractor to issue checks for abortion on demand.
“It is a distinction without a difference,” he said.
“This language amounts to the federal government taking out a ‘contract’ on the unborn,” Smith said. “For the first time ever an elaborate government program will be created to pay contractors to pay abortionists for the dismemberment, chemical poisoning and in utero starvation of innocent unborn children.”
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said in a written release, “The Ellsworth language is a political fig leaf made out of cellophane…. This is a money-laundering scheme — a federally funded ‘bag man’ will deliver government funds to abortionists.”
Stupak said Nov. 5 he still plans to rally fellow pro-life Democrats in an effort to defeat the rule, according to CNSNews.com. If the procedural vote on the rule fails, the legislation will not be able to go to the floor for consideration. Stupak and Democrats for Life of America told CNS in late October there were from 40 to 43 House Democrats lined up to vote against the rule.
Pro-lifer advocates are concerned, however, about the ability of the House leaders to use Ellsworth’s amendment, faulty as it is, to convince a few moderate or pro-life Democrats to vote for the rule and the bill.
For pro-lifers, there is almost no margin for error. There are 258 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House, after the special elections Nov. 3. Pro-lifers need 218 votes to defeat the rule. That would require all 177 Republicans and 41 Democrats in order to block the legislation.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) issued an email alert Nov. 5 urging calls and emails asking representatives to vote against the rule and, if the rule is approved, the bill. (Representatives can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or online (http://capwiz.com/ethics/dbq/officials)).
The indication by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that she will not permit amendments to the legislation “is an outrage — especially since the government is positioning itself to help pay for the abortions of countless innocent unborn babies in the name of health care,” ERLC President Richard Land said in the alert.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s leading abortion provider, voiced reservations about Ellsworth’s amendment but did not seem nearly as burdened as pro-lifers. “We are concerned that this new language could tip the balance away from women’s access to reproductive health care,” said Laurie Rubiner, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy, in a written statement.
In a blog posting Nov. 5, Boehner, from Ohio, said “a monthly abortion premium will be charged of all enrollees in the government-run plan…. [A]nd these federal funds will be used to pay for the abortion services.”
NRLC’s Johnson confirmed Boehner’s assertion in a phone interview with Baptist Press.
“If you want to enroll in the public option, then you have to pay for abortion…. [Y]ou have to have abortion coverage,” he said. “The government would be saying, ‘You must pay for abortion on demand or take a hike.'”
This “surcharge,” as Johnson described it, is to buttress arguments by the health-care bill’s supporters that abortion coverage is “not tax-subsidized,” he said. “They wanted to make it totally clear that people signing up are paying for abortions.”
The current bill, however, would still result in federal funds from taxpayers underwriting abortions, Johnson said.
“They want to call it something else, but we don’t care what they call it,” he said. “A federal agency paying for abortions — that’s federal funding of abortion, no matter what they call it.”
NRLC thinks “it is very likely the Stupak amendment would be adopted [if there were a floor vote on it], because the Stupak amendment really just applies the principle of the Hyde Amendment,” Johnson said of the laws that bar federal funding of other health plans supervised by the Department of Health and Human Services. “And I think Speaker Pelosi and the White House think so too, and that’s why they’re fighting so hard against it.”
Ellsworth has a 100 percent pro-life voting record so far this year, according to NRLC’s ratings. He had an 85 percent pro-life record in 2007-08, his first congressional session, NRLC reported.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.