Health Care Reform Splits Democrats on Abortion
Pro-life Democrats are at odds with their party's leaders, saying abortions will be publicly funded under health care reforms as current legislation stands.
Speaking at a roundtable this week, Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said last week that there are more changes to be made to the bill before he will be confident federal money won't fund abortion. Casey, a pro-life Catholic, was criticized by church leaders earlier this year for voting to allow federal funding for overseas clinics that provide abortions by overturning the Mexico City policy.
"Just to clarify for my own part, I do think we need some more work done on parts of the bill, but we're doing that right now," Casey told reporters October 21.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) followed Casey by saying no one will have to make a choice between voting for health care reform and ensuring abortion isn't federally funded because Democrats have ensured that abortion services will not receive public money.
"I believe there are those who want to take down the bill who will say that is not the case," Stabenow said. "But we have gone to great lengths to make sure this is absolutely neutral."
Likewise, President Barack Obama has promised that under his plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.
But Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, says that assertion isn't true. No matter which version of the health care bill you look at, each one contains strong possibilities for federal abortion funding and some even mandate it, she told Christianity Today.
"I don't know how people can look with a straight face and say there is no federal funding for abortion," she says.
A current law called the Hyde amendment bars most federal funding for abortion, applying those restrictions to Medicaid.
Democrats continue to cite the Hyde Amendment when they talk about prohibitions on federally funded abortions. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), told reporters Wednesday that to say the plan would subsidize abortions is the same as saying the government is subsidizing abortions for those who travel on highways to abortion clinics.
"If the government subsidizes your travel by funding the highway system or Amtrak, and you use those services to get abortion services, that is really not what we're considering government funding of abortions," he said.
Some versions of health care reform include an amendment proposed by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), which was touted as a compromise. It would allow insurance companies that participate in the publicly run insurance exchange to provide abortions, but individuals would have to use their own premiums to pay for abortions.
But critics say that the amendment still doesn't keep federal money separate from private money. Premiums paid by individuals on a public plan would go into a fund along with "affordability credits" that would be given to low-income individuals to pay for abortions, according to separate reports by the Family Research Council and the Associated Press.
To ensure that doesn't happen, the heath care reform needs to include protections identical to those governing Medicaid plans, Day says. For years, the Hyde Amendment has kept Health and Human Services funds away from abortion services, which means that federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, and some others must pay for abortions with their own funds. Some Democrats say the Hyde Amendment would already apply to the new health care program without expressly adding it to the bill, but Day disagrees.