Pennsylvania Officials Must Work to Ensure Obama Admin Doesn’t Fund Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 26, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania Officials Must Work to Ensure Obama Admin Doesn’t Fund Abortions

by Michael Ciccocioppo
July 26, 2010 Note: Michael Ciccocioppo is executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation based in Harrisburg, the organization that is the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.

How did the Pennsylvania Insurance Department find itself in the firestorm of the national abortion debate, and what must be done to keep federal money from being used in the commonwealth to pay for abortions on demand?

It all started when President Obama promised that federal funds would not be used to pay for abortions when he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March. One of the first new programs coming out of the law this year is the Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan. This is intended to give health insurance coverage to folks who have been denied any coverage in the private sector.

Then, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department submitted a plan to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington detailing how the state intended to run this plan. HHS approved the plan and sent it back to the Insurance Department to implement using $160 million of federal health care dollars.

After this approval was publicly announced, the National Right to Life Committee discovered that the plan contained a provision to include as a covered benefit abortions that are legal under Pennsylvania statutes. This means that most abortions up to six months gestation would be covered for almost any reason.

Although the plan later contradicts itself and says that “elective abortions are not covered,” this is a red herring because the operative language does not define “elective,” while the provision that includes abortion coverage cites specific Pennsylvania statutes.

Soon word got out that at least two other states, New Mexico and Maryland, had also developed plans to cover abortions in their PCIP. With three states planning to cover abortions, it became clear that nobody could count on President Obama’s promise. In fact this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

HHS tried to restore credibility by issuing a media release saying that, “abortions will not be covered in the PCIP except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.” But a media release does not have the force of law.

Even abortion rights advocates have agreed with right to lifers regarding federal law on this matter.

For example, in a July 17 e-mail to supporters, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards stated, “Nothing in the new health care reform law requires a ban on abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. No law passed by Congress forced this decision.” Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the nation.

If HHS promulgates the new policy they announced, it might stick. But here’s the problem. When a contractor of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department denies payment for an abortion under the PCIP, abortion rights advocates are likely to test the program in the courts. They will no doubt point to the approved Pennsylvania plan that says legal abortions are a covered service. They will also argue that there is no federal law to back up the HHS policy. And then a court will decide whether federal funds will pay PCIP claims for legal abortions in Pennsylvania.

Two actions must be taken to insure that this does not happen.

First, the Pennsylvania Insurance commissioner must revise his department’s plan with clear language that explicitly denies coverage for abortion on demand. This change must then be submitted to HHS for expedited review and approval.

Second, Congress must pass, and the president must sign into law, H.R. 5111 which U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., introduced. This would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so that no funds authorized or appropriated by the Act may be used to pay for any abortion, except in rare cases where a woman would be in danger of death or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.

We strongly urge the insurance commissioner and our representatives and senators in Congress to take these actions without delay.


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