Bill Holds Obama to Task for No Abortion Funding Rhetoric

Opinion   |   Bill Saunders and Anna Franzonello   |   Oct 12, 2011   |   11:33AM   |   Washington, DC

On September 9, 2009, President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and stated, “And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up—under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the health care law enacted in 2010, failed to live up to the President’s words.  However, a bill that will be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives this week, the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358), would ensure that federal dollars will not be used to fund abortions and would provide clear federal conscience protections for health care providers.

Without the Protect Life Act, funds appropriated and authorized through the PPACA may subsidize abortion and insurance plans that cover abortion; mandates within PPACA may be invoked to require abortion-coverage; and state and federal conscience protections for healthcare providers are in jeopardy.

The Protect Life Act replaces the PPACA’s accounting gimmick in the state insurance exchanges (which the PPACA requires be in place by 2014) with the principles of the Hyde Amendment.  In line with the decades old restriction of the Hyde Amendment –which applies to Medicaid– the Protect Life Act prohibits “funds authorized or appropriated” by the PPACA from being used “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion,” with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

The Protect Life Act applies to all of the PPACA’s funding, which is important because multiple funding streams created through the PPACA lack statutory restrictions on using their funds directly for abortion.  Such funding streams include the $9.5 billion appropriated for Community Health Centers (CHCs) and funds appropriated through the “high-risk pools.”  By writing the restriction into the law, the Protect Life Act safeguards against a court ruling ordering that abortion must be funded, and does not make prohibition of abortion funding depend upon administrative rulings and agency interpretations, which are subject to change.

Predictably, the abortion lobby has waged disingenuous attacks against the Protect Life Act.  For example, NARAL Pro-Choice America claims that the bill “effectively would ban insurance coverage of abortion in state health-insurance exchanges, denying abortion coverage to millions of women.”  However, the Protect Life Act explicitly permits the purchase of a separate supplemental coverage that covers abortion, provided it is paid for entirely by funds not authorized or appropriated by the PPACA.

It is also important to note that under the Protect Life Act every insurance company that includes a plan in the Exchange that covers abortion must include a second plan that is identical to the first plan in every aspect except that it does not cover abortion. That means everyone who purchases insurance through the Exchange has access to the same coverage, with the only exception being that those who receive affordability credits cannot use those government dollars to purchase insurance plans that include abortion coverage.

The Protect Life Act addresses conscience protection problems in the PPACA as well.  The Protect Life Act amends the PPACA to be consistent with the Hyde-Weldon Amendment by proscribing discrimination by federal agencies and programs and any State or local government that receives federal funding through the PPACA.  Importantly, the Protect Life Act contains a private right of action.  Without a private right of action, health care providers are dependent on the government to pursue their case and to enforce their rights.  The recent weakening of federal regulations designed to protect conscience rights underscores the necessity for Congressional action in this regard; health care providers must have an effective means to enforce their legal rights.

In addition to the Protect Life Act – a vital piece of legislation to address serious problems within the PPACA – Americans United for Life Action supports the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179 and S. 1467).  The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is necessary to address the recent mandate issued by the Obama Administration that nearly all insurance plans cover drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action, including the abortion-inducing drug ella, that the Food and Drug Administration have labeled as “contraception.”

As the provisions of the PPACA are quickly being implemented, the necessity to correct its anti-life and anti-conscience pitfalls gains increasing urgency.  The House of Representatives should be commended for its commitment to taking up this crucial pro-life legislation, and the Senate must be encouraged to follow suit.

ACTION: Contact your member of the House at to urge strong support for the Protect Life Act and opposition to any weakening amendments. Note:  Anna Franzonello is a staff attorney with Americans United for Life.