Health Care Bills and Abortion

( – Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, an organization that says its mission is “to articulate the biblical call to social justice,” said Monday that he has yet to see a health care reform bill that uses federal funds to promote abortion.

However, both the bill drafted by the House Ways and Means Committee and the bill drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, allow federal tax dollars to flow to health insurers that pay for abortions.

The House bill goes so far as to require that all Americans getting federally funded health insurance have an opportunity to purchase health insurance plans that cover abortion.

Defenders of this bill claim that the abortion coverage in these plans will be covered with the insured’s own money and other parts of the plan will be covered with taxpayers’ dollars.

“There is no health care plan that I have seen so far that wouldn’t cover older people, vulnerable people, and disabled people, or use federal funds to promote abortions,” Wallis said during a telephone conference call with reporters.

Sojourners is one of several activist groups promoting a new initiative called “40 Days for Health Reform.” This initiative calls together activist groups to articulate biblical or specific religious teachings to promote social welfare and, to that end, health care reform.

Wallis said that while many people are interested in health care reform because they want to protect the “sacredness of human life,” he also said that abortion should not be used to defeat health care reform.

“A number of us are part of this because we care about the sacredness of human life, that’s why we are here,” said Wallis. “So a number of us care about the issue of abortion and I am quite disturbed by the way some people, even on the religious right, are using the issue of abortion to try and defeat health care.”

“We want what a lot of us are calling an abortion-neutral stance, carefully worded so abortion does not become an issue in the bill,” Wallis said. “I think a number of us on both sides of this issue, having agreed to this, we can help shape a bill where abortion does not become an issue that scuttles health care reform.”

In the House of Representatives, the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), includes an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) that is viewed by many pro-choice legislators as a compromise on the abortion issue.

The amendment says that the the so-called “public option” health care plan offered by the government will not cover abortion. It also says that the minimum benefits package that all insurance companies must offer to Americans receiving government subsidies to buy insurance–for which everyone making 400% or less of the poverty level will qualify–will also not cover abortion. However, the amendment also stipulates that private insurance plans offering coverage to government-subsidized customers (anyone making under 400% of the poverty level) can cover abortions if they wish, and that at least one private health care plan offered to federally funded health insurance purchasers in every region of the country MUST cover abortions.

This means that people buying health insurance with federal tax subsidies will always be able to buy insurance that covers abortion.

Some Members of Congress who supported this amendment have argued that it does not mean that federal tax dollars will go to cover abortions because, they say, the part of the premium paid be federally subsidized insurance buyers with their own money will cover the abortion-providing part of their policy. Under this theory, the tax dollars used to buy this person’s insurance policy will only pay for that part of the policy that does not cover abortion.

However, Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), criticized the Capps amendment as “legal fiction.”

“How it would work is, if somebody who is in the government plan goes and gets an elective abortion, the abortionist sends the bill to the federal government–and the federal government sends him back a federal government check to pay for the abortion,” said Johnson.

“You would have federal officials running it and federal checks paying for the abortions,” Johnson told “Most Americans would consider that federal subsidies for abortion and they would be right.”

The Capps amendment sets guidelines for the inclusion of private insurers in a health care exchange, stipulating that insurers that want to qualify for the exchange are free to either provide coverage for abortion or not provide coverage.

The amendment also states, however, that “abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted.”

“With respect to the private plans, some private plans are going to cover abortion on demand and some won’t,” said Johnson. “But if you are one of the people who qualify for a federal subsidy, you can take that subsidy and buy an abortion plan.”

Johnson noted that government money is fungible. “It is like the money in your wallet,” he said. “It does not matter which bills you pull out, once it goes in your wallet it is all fungible as they say.”

“So it is a fiction,” said Johnson. “They want the government to run an insurance plan to cover abortion on demand and that’s what this would achieve.”

The current Senate version of the health care bill allows for federal funds to go to insurers that cover abortions and does not prohibit the government run public-opition from providing abortions.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D.-Md.) offered and amendment to the bill in committee that required all insurance plans available to federally subsidized insurance purchasers to cover services provided to pregnant women by clinics run by groups including Planned Parenthood. When Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) if she would be willing to add language to her own amendment that would explicitly exclude abortions from being among the federally funded services provided by these clinics, Mikulski said, “No, I would not be willing to do that at this time.”

Hatch later offered his own amendment to the bill. in committee, that would have prohibited any funding of abortion through federally funded health insurance programs except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. The amendment was defeated.

Wallis said that there people who “really want to shut down democracy” and “I think we have to carefully have this conversation to show people that a health care reform comprehensive plan will respect the sacredness of human life and those of us who care about that will make sure it does.”

It was announced during the conference call that President Obama will be joining faith leaders from across the nation to discuss the moral importance of health care reform. That conference call is scheduled for next Wednesday evening, Aug. 19.

More information about the call-in can be found at

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