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Why the Obama Plan Changes the Status Quo on Abortion

On Monday February 22, 2010, following the release of President Obama’s new health care reform proposal, Nancy Ann Deparle, Director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform,  made the following statement on a conference call about how the Obama proposal addresses abortion:

The starting point is the Senate bill with the Nelson language. It’s not a perfect proposal, but it was crafted in a bipartisan manner.  It’s different from the House, but our effort was to not change the status quo on abortion.  I know it’s not ideal, but that’s the starting point we’re working from.

Her statement that the Senate abortion language was “crafted in a bipartisan manner” is inexplicable.  In fact, the Senate abortion language was crafted behind closed doors without a Republican in the room, which was evidenced by the fact that no Republican Senators voted in favor of it (as part of the manager’s amendment to the bill).  Instead of modeling the Senate abortion language after the House abortion language (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, with its bipartisan nature demonstrated by the political diversity of its cosponsors as well as the 64 Democratic members who voted for it), Majority Leader Reid decided to model the language after the pro-abortion Capps Amendment that was included in an early version of the House bill and in the Senate Finance Committee Bill.  Reid was able to tighten the language just enough to win over Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska, who was holding the key 60th vote.

However, no rewording can hide what the Senate language does.  The genesis of the language aside, Ms. Deparle grossly misrepresents how it compares to existing law or the “status quo on abortion.”

The most well known embodiment of the “status quo on abortion” is the Hyde Amendment, a funding limitation added annually to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill.  However, there are numerous other laws that adopt the same principles in the Hyde Amendment  that no federal funds may be used to pay for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother) or to subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions.

The Senate bill does not adopt the comprehensive approach to prohibiting federal funding of abortion found in the Hyde Amendment (and the House health care reform bill).  Instead, the Senate bill:

  • Only prohibits the use of certain funds to pay for abortions, leaving open the possibility that other authorized funds (such as the 11 billion dollars provided for Community Health Centers) will be used to pay for abortions. Furthermore, even the paltry limitation in the bill is not built on solid ground. It is tied to the existence of the Hyde Amendment which is subject to elimination every year.  So, if the Hyde amendment is ever removed from LHHS appropriations, the limited prohibition on federal funding for abortion in the Senate health care reform bill will disappear as well.  Pro-abortion lawmakers are committed to getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, and it is perhaps not cynical to see this as the first step in a two-step plan to do that.
  • Allows federal dollars to directly subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions. Again, this contravenes existing law.  The most well-known example of the prohibition on the use of federal dollars to subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions is the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).

The Senate bill also fails to maintain the “status quo” on abortion in other ways.  The bill creates new broad mandate authorities for federal agencies and officials that could allow them to require private insurance companies to provide abortion coverage. For example, under the Mikulski Amendment to the Senate bill, an administrative agency may determine that abortion is “preventive care” and then require all insurance companies to cover abortion.  If that happens, all Americans will be forced to pay for abortions through their insurance premiums, even in violation of their conscience.

Speaking of conscience, while the Hyde-Weldon conscience amendment (added annually to LHHS appropriations) prohibits government entities from discriminating against health care entities that refuse to participate in abortions, the Senate bill only prohibits discrimination against health care entities by insurance plans participating in the new government exchanges.

Clearly, the Obama Administration is not trying to maintain the “status quo” on abortion with health care reform.  Health care reform is another weapon in the Administration’s arsenal to mainstream abortion in the United States.

For a detailed comparison of the Hyde Amendment, the House bill, and the Senate bill, including citations, please click here.