In a Christmas Eve vote, the American people watched a U.S. Senator betray his pro-life principles for $100 million. The version of Obamacare that passed the Senate is the one to watch—it changes current law and allows taxpayer dollars to fund plans that cover elective abortions for the first time in years—and with the hair’s-width margin by which it passed, it may well emerge from the negotiations between the House and the Senate. The only thing that stands between Americans and a law forcing them to fund abortion coverage against their conscience, is a small group of House Democrats, who, led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), dug in their heels for an amendment in the House version upholding current law limiting tax-funded abortions.
On November 9th, President Obama said, “I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill… And we’re not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions.”
Unfortunately, the “Nelson version of the bill,” does just what President Obama said he was not looking to do: it entangles the federal government in the promotion, administration and subsidization of plans that cover elective abortions. The long-standing current policy is that health insurance programs subsidized with federal money—including those for Congressional staffers who are given the opportunity to choose from a variety of private plans under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)—are not allowed to cover elective abortions. No delineation is made between the staffer’s money and tax money. It’s all in the same pot and if the government is paying for any portion of the insurance, it falls under this rule. The most recent Quinnipiac survey, taken after full public exposition of this issue, shows that the American people oppose abortion funding in health reform by more than 3 to 1 (72 to 23%).
The House-passed Stupak-Pitts measure merely seeks to maintain current law. Its fate is likely on the table in the meetings among the White House staff and House and Senate leadership, which are being kept more secretive than usual. And it’s the Senate that has the narrower margin within which to work.
Here is how the Senate’s version would change current abortion funding law. It would first require every individual to buy insurance or face a fee (or prison). Individuals and families that fall into certain income ranges would receive assistance to buy this insurance—tax dollars. The Senate purports to protect an individual’s right not to participate in purchasing a plan that covers elective abortions, but it does so through a web of bookkeeping exercises and a state opt-out provision that will likely lead to new abortion funding debates in state after state – where most policies were fixed to public satisfaction decades ago. Heritage Expert Chuck Donovan points out that, in many instances, employees’ first notice that they are funding abortion coverage could come when they see a special “abortion debit” on their pay stubs. Even if an employee succeeds in discerning and opting out of such coverage, he or she will still be underwriting that coverage through their tax dollars paid to promote and administer abortion-inclusive plans in other states and the new federal exchange program.
So what happens now? We all wait as the camera lights go dim and the secret “negotiations” continue. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) predicted the House pro-life language would be removed from the final version of the bill. Will the small band of pro-life House Democrats resolutely led by Bart Stupak stand in the gap? For them and for the nation, that’s much more than a $100 million question.