Life Issues Forum
Using Health Care Reform to Promote Abortions
By Susan E. Wills
January 8, 2010
Given an historic opportunity to expand access to affordable health care, Congressional leadership is at risk of undermining whatever good they could have accomplished. If abortion provisions in the recently passed Senate bill make it into the final “melded” bill, health care reform could die in the House or, surviving, could usher in the most massive expansion of the abortion license since Roe v. Wade.
Efforts to improve access to health care do not have to end in a choice between promoting a pro-abortion agenda and no reform. As of this writing, there’s still hope that Congressional leadership will embrace the “abortion neutral” approach they claimed to support throughout 2009. This means maintaining the status quo with respect to abortion funding, i.e., retaining the longstanding policy of the Hyde Amendment and other statutes that bar federal funds from being used to pay for elective abortions or health plans that include them.
The House bill, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act” (H.R. 3962), meets that commitment thanks to the Stupak Amendment, which was supported by a bipartisan majority of House members (240-194).
Regrettably, the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) very similar to the Stupak Amendment. Instead, under the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (Senate substitute for H.R. 3590), the government would help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. Supporters say they have segregated funds covering elective abortions from the general federal subsidy, but the end result is that many purchasers of federally subsidized plans will be forced to make two premium payments every month, the second solely to pay for other people’s abortions!
During floor debate, pro-choice Senators cited two main reasons for rejecting the Nelson Amendment. Neither argument holds water.
They claimed that the Nelson Amendment was not “abortion neutral,” but instead imposed new and completely unacceptable restrictions on abortion coverage. This is ludicrous. The Nelson Amendment is essentially identical to the relevant passages of the Hyde Amendment and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP). Only five days after rejecting the supposedly “restrictive” Nelson Amendment, the Senate readily passed an unrelated bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which contains both these abortion funding prohibitions, in language virtually identical to Nelson’s.
The second argument offered to justify federal abortion funding is that abortion is a “legal right” and, for that reason alone, should be covered with government assistance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled this point in Harris v. McRae (1980). In finding the Hyde Amendment constitutional, the Court recognized that abortion is “inherently different” from all other medical procedures and stated that the legal right to procure an abortion does not require the government to pay for it.
That’s just common sense. Americans have a legal “right” to do all sorts of things, without being able to expect the government to pay for their habits. As an adult, I can legally buy a case of wine and a carton of cigarettes. I can even undergo liposuction or other elective, cosmetic surgery. But I’ve no right to insist that the government supply me with alcohol and tobacco, much less subsidize my extreme makeover.
Visit www.usccb.org/healthcare for a detailed analysis of the current health care bills. Through this website, you can let your Senators and Representative know that if the final bill funds elective abortions and health plans that promote them, it should be rejected.
Susan Wills is assistant director for education and outreach, U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.