BeliefNet’s Steve Waldman Gets it Wrong on Abortion Funding in Health Care Bills

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

BeliefNet’s Steve Waldman Gets it Wrong on Abortion Funding in Health Care Bills

by Douglas Johnson
August 27, 2009 Douglas Johnson is the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, one of the largest pro-life organizations in the United States. He is frequently named one of the top lobbyists in Washington.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday (Aug. 26) published a long piece by Steven Waldman titled, "Does Health Care Cover Abortion?"

I am quoted in the article, but I disagree with some of the author’s statements and conclusions.

The Capps Amendment, which wrote the words "abortion" and "abortions" into the bill 17 times, was actually written by veteran staff to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and delegated to his faithful lieutenant Rep. Capps. Both Waxman and Capps have unbroken career voting records against any limitation on abortion or government funding of abortion. Democrat Bart Stupak (Mi.), co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, called the Capps-Waxman Amendment a "phony compromise."

Let’s talk first about the proposed big new government health insurance plan, the "public option," that the Obama-backed House health care bill (H.R. 3200) would create (kicking it off with $2 billion in start-up funds from the Treasury). As amended, the bill explicitly authorizes the Obama Administration to fund abortion for any reason under the public plan, from day one.

Mr. Waldman writes that "it’s certainly not an unreasonable prediction, given that the Secretary and the President are both pro-choice" that "if abortion can be covered, it will be covered."

Right, but there is actually a lot more specific information on which to base a "prediction."

Barack Obama himself appeared before a gathering of Planned Parenthood activists when he was running for President, and this is what he said:

"Essentially, what we’re doing is to say that we’re gonna set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It’ll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services." (The Obama campaign readily confirmed that "reproductive services" included abortion, not that anyone doubted it.)

You can watch the video clip yourself, here.

Obama has never said anything to contradict that commitment, contrary to some claims. Every time the issue has been raised recently, Obama has engaged in evasion and misdirection. If Congress grants his Administration the authority to cover abortions in the "public option," he will certainly do so — he has consistently opposed all limits on government funding of abortion (including the Hyde Amendment) throughout his career in public life.

So, once the Secretary of HHS has ordered that all abortions be covered under the "public option," what would that mean? It would mean that you would not be allowed to enroll in the new government plan unless you were willing to pay an additional premium to cover the cost of elective abortions — in effect, an abortion surcharge.

The Capps Amendment explicitly requires that the federal official who runs the program must calculate the total cost of abortions and increase the premium for all enrollees enough to pay for the aggregate cost of the abortions. The amendment specifies that this "abortion surcharge" (my term) cannot be less than $12 per enrollee per year, but the amendment does not set an upper limit.

Again, this abortion premium is not optional: If you want to enroll in the government’s public health plan, you would be required to pay the abortion surcharge. If you did not want to pay for abortions, you would not be allowed to take advantage of the government program at all.

While these payments to the government agency might be labeled as "premiums" rather than "taxes," it is contrived and misleading to refer to them as "private funds." Government agencies receive funds from many sources — taxes, fees, fines, and so forth, or in this case, "premiums." Once the federal agency has control of the funds, they are public funds — federal funds.

Under the Capps Amendment, the federal agency running the public fund would indeed write checks directly to "an abortion provider," drawn on a federal Treasury account, specifically to pay for abortions performed on plan enrollees. The federal government IS the "insurance company." This is government funding of abortion, pure and simple.

As Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently wrote, under the Capps-Waxman Amendment,

"The government will REQUIRE that everyone taking the public health plan pays for this abortion coverage; and since those premium dollars will be paid to the government agency managing the plan, which will then turn those funds over to abortionists, this will be government funding of abortion. Calling it a premium rather than a tax makes no difference at all to the moral issue — in fact, people who are forced to pay this abortion premium can be sure that this particular money of theirs will be used by the government to fund abortions and ONLY abortions, a situation not found in the usual taxpayer scenario."

Now let’s talk about the other big abortion problem with the bill: The big new program to provide subsidies to tens of millions of people to buy health insurance.

These subsidies ("affordability credits") will be funded mostly by general tax revenues, and also by special taxes (actually, fines) on employers and citizens who don’t conform to other provisions of the bill. It is true that these funds would go to insurance companies (or to the federal public plan agency), not directly to providers, but when you buy health insurance, you buy what the insurance pays for. Under Capps, the federal subsidies (tax subsidies) would be going to pay for coverage of abortion on demand.

Contrary to Mr. Waldman’s understanding, such a situation would not be parallel to the current Medicaid law. The Hyde Amendment (a provision attached to the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill) provides, "None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion."

However, we each live under two sovereigns: The federal government, and a state government. If a state government sets a separate funding scheme to pay for abortions for people who happen to be Medicaid-eligible, we oppose that policy, but it is a matter of state law — it is not federal funding of abortion or of insurance coverage of abortion.

By the same token, the amendments we are supporting to the Obama-backed health care bills (such as the Stupak anti-abortion-subsidy amendment) deal only with the federal programs that these bills would create, and would not prevent any state from subsidizing abortions for whomever it chooses, although certainly we would oppose that at the state level.

The other example Mr. Waldman gives is downright strange.

He writes that the federal government "provides funding to Planned Parenthood for maternal health care but says it can’t use any of the money to pay for abortions. The organization has to pay for abortions out of a separate account, filled by private, not taxpayer, dollars."

I have news for Mr. Waldman: There is no "separate account" from which Planned Parenthood "pays for" abortions. Planned Parenthood is not generally in the business of "paying for" abortions. Rather, Planned Parenthood is in the business of SELLING abortions.

In fact, analysis of the most recent annual report of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) reveals that the organization remains America’s largest abortion provider, performing 305,310 abortions in 2007.

At the going rate for a standard first-trimester suction abortion, Planned Parenthood’s income from that many abortions would have been $126.1 million, which would have been about one-third of the income taken in by PPFA-affiliated clinics during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008. The details are here.

So who actually does pay for the over 300,000/year abortions performed by Planned Parenthood? Answer: The clients themselves, in most cases, or insurance plans that receive NO federal subsidies.

In other words, none are federally subsidized (except in certain cases involving life of the mother, rape, or incest), and most are paid for by REALLY "private funds." But under the Obama-backed bills, a lot of those abortions would be paid for by federally subsidized health insurance. That indeed "veers sharply away from the status quo into a radical new pro-choice direction," and we oppose the change.

In summary, any member of Congress who votes for this legislation is indeed voting to create (1) a federal agency that will directly fund abortion on demand, and (2) a second federal program that will provide massive tax subsidies to purchase insurance plans that cover abortion on demand. That is the truth, it is nothing but the truth, and it will be widely understood across the land by the time the votes occur on these bills.

Further documentation on the pro-abortion components of the Obama-backed health care bills is here.

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