WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates have received an important assurance from the Obama administration on one aspect of the new health-care reform law but are still seeking its repeal by Congress.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a regulation clarifying that an interim program established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to cover uninsured Americans will prohibit the use of federal funds for most abortions. The White House, however, said the rule would not necessarily apply to other programs under the far-reaching and controversial measure, which was enacted in March.
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land wrote some Democrats in the House of Representatives to urge support for repeal of the new health-care law in order to adopt a different form of health-care reform.
HHS released the rule July 29, putting to rest a controversy that became public when the National Right to Life Committee reported Pennsylvania’s program under the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) would cover legal abortions in the state. New Mexico and Maryland also were reported to have devised plans under the PCIP that would cover elective abortions.
The PCIP, also referred to as the “high-risk pool” program, provides coverage to the uninsured who have pre-existing conditions. Under the law, $5 billion in federal funds is authorized for states to implement such a program until “insurance exchanges” to be administered by the states go into effect in 2014.
A day after National Right to Life reported Pennsylvania’s plan would cover abortions, a HHS spokeswoman said on July 14 abortion would not be covered under the PCIP except in the cases of a threat to the mother’s life or in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest. Those exceptions are consistent with other abortion-funding restrictions in federal law.
On the same day HHS affirmed that policy by means of its July 29 regulation, Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle wrote on the White House blog the ban on abortion coverage in the “high-risk pool” program “is not a precedent for other programs or policies” under the health-care law.
National Right to Life’s Douglas Johnson said July 29 the Obama administration, “without blinking,” had approved in at least three states’ programs “that would have funded virtually all abortions” before his organization disclosed those plans.
The development shows National Right to Life was correct in March when it said there was nothing in the health-care law or in an Obama executive order — issued supposedly to allay pro-life Democrats’ concerns — that “effectively prevents federal subsidies for abortion on demand,” said Johnson, the organization’s legislative director.
“This means that unless Congress repeals the health care law or performs major corrective surgery on it, there will be years of battles, as each new program is implemented, over how elective abortion will be covered — and the White House is suggesting that today’s policy will not necessarily be applied when implementing the other programs, some of which will cover far larger populations,” Johnson said in a written statement.
The PCIP potentially could cover 400,000 people when it is implemented throughout the country.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), wrote members of the Blue Dog Coalition July 30 to seek their support for repeal of the health-care law — citing abortion funding as one of the ERLC’s reasons for opposing the new health-care law. The Blue Dog Coalition is an alliance of 54 moderate or conservative Democrats in the House.
In explaining his opposition to the law, Land also said the law: (1) levies higher taxes on married couples than cohabiting couples; (2) mandates Americans purchase insurance and businesses offer government-approved plans, and (3) increases government oversight of health care.
“The only viable solution is to repeal this harmful law before more damage is done,” Land said.
Land urged the Blue Dogs to support a discharge petition that would pave the way for a vote on a bill to repeal the new law. A discharge petition is a procedural move to bring a bill to the floor from a committee without its approval. It requires a House majority, or 218 members, to succeed.
Land also wrote Rep. Steve King, R.-Iowa, in support of his discharge petition to bring his bill to repeal the health-care law up for a vote. King’s legislation to overturn the law is H.R. 4972.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.