Anti-Abortion Proviso No Reason to Kill Healthcare Bill

Thursday, 12 Nov 2009 04:56 PM

By Lanny Davis

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Stupak-Pitts Is Not Worth Killing HealthCare Bill

By Lanny J. Davis

I am a pro-choice liberal Democrat. I believe the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1977, which forbids the expenditure of federal tax dollars to fund abortions, directly or indirectly, is unfair and wrong. It discriminates against poor women.

But the amendment is passed every year, because it needs to be reauthorized each year as part of the appropriations process. I haven’t noticed the vocal opponents of Stupak-Hyde leading opposition each year to reauthorization of the Hyde Amendment.

In fact, many, many people believe abortion is immoral, that life begins at conception. These sincere people understandably do not want their tax dollars, directly or indirectly, paying for a procedure they consider to be the taking of an innocent life.

Many who share this belief are liberal Democrats on major economic and social issues, including many of the 64 Democrats (more than 25 percent of all House Democrats) who voted Nov. 7 for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, R-Pa. The amendment passed, with Republican support, in a 240-194 vote.

Stupak-Pitts essentially is based on the Hyde Amendment principle. It prohibits:

  • (1) Any federal funds to be used under the House healthcare bill to pay for abortions

  • (2) Any individuals who receive federal subsidies for healthcare under the bill — those families of four with income of $88,000/year or less — from buying an insurance plan on the state public exchanges that covers abortion.

    If the new health insurance system is enacted, all those who do not receive health insurance from employers must buy insurance on state insurance exchanges. But since state insurance exchanges will receive federal funds to cover administrative costs, some abortion-rights advocates argue that under Stupak-Pitts, women who do not receive federal subsidies still may not buy an insurance policy listed on the exchange, even entirely using their own private funds, if the policy includes abortion coverage as part of its regular coverage.

    Supporters of the amendment, such as the National Right to Life Committee, dispute that claim, however, and it appears they may be right. Insurers may offer comprehensive plans that include abortion coverage or supplemental plans for abortion specifically, according to PolitiFact.com, an independent analyst.

    But insurers must keep these plans separate from those bought by people who accept federal credits. Insurance companies would not be allowed to pay for abortions with money they earn from selling tax-subsidized policies.

    So the key question is: Should those who oppose Stupak-Pitts vote down the entire healthcare bill for this reason alone? Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., claims to have 40 or more Democrats committed to voting against any final healthcare bill coming out of the Senate-House Conference Committee if it contains Stupak-Pitts.

    If she is correct, then that is the end of any hope of passing a national health insurance bill. I hope DeGette and others change their minds.

    As President Obama told ABC News, “You know, I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill. And we’re not working 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.”

    Obama is right. When and if the final conference bill reaches the House floor, I am hoping DeGette and others will look at the big picture and ask themselves: "Would I vote against this bill if I or a member of my family had no health insurance and my family faced bankruptcy in case of serious illness or were forced to depend on public hospital emergency rooms for basic healthcare?"

    If the answer is no — then that should be their final, if unhappy, reason to support the bill and, at long last, enact national health insurance and mandatory coverage for virtually all Americans.

    Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, was a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2005-06. He is the author of "Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America."

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