This Op Ed was published by Politico and can be viewed online here.
For over 30 years, the Hyde amendment has prevented the expenditure of federal funds on abortion, which so many regard as the taking of an innocent human life. Named after the late Henry Hyde, longtime member of Congress from Illinois and pro-life hero, the Hyde amendment established the principle that taxpayers should not be required to pay for abortions, even if the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade had effectively overturned 50 state laws to legalize the procedure across the nation.
Today, with the health care reform bill emerging from the U.S. Senate, that principle is being thrown to the winds and, with it, the hard-fought efforts of Henry Hyde and the pro-life movement to maintain this basic protection for the unborn. Despite the promises of the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership that the health care bill would maintain the status quo on the issue of abortion, the legislative language revealed by Majority Leader Harry Reid late last week radically changes that status quo and sets the tragic precedent of providing federal funding for abortion.
This may come as a surprise to those who have been following accounts in the mainstream media of the last-minute compromise on abortion funding reached in the Democratic Caucus. That compromise has been widely portrayed as maintaining “neutrality” on the issue of abortion, leaving current federal law as it stands today.
This could not be further from the truth. The amended bill in the Senate does not include the Stupak amendment language from the House bill that would prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for elective abortions. Instead, states are given the option to opt out of providing insurance coverage of abortions. But while states are given the option to opt out, taxpayers in a state that opts out would still see their federal tax dollars fund elective abortions in other states. In other words, even taxpayers in states that opt out of providing abortion coverage cannot opt out of paying for elective abortion.
Additionally, each state, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can provide access to two multistate plans, and only one of them will exclude abortions. OPM’s current health care program — the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program — does not include any plans that cover elective abortion. All other federally administered health programs — like Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare and the Children's Health Insurance Plan — include the same restrictions. If this bill is signed into law, it would mean that a federally funded and managed health care plan would cover elective abortions for the first time.
The bill would also undermine existing state restrictions on abortion because it pre-empts state laws and conflicts with some existing state regulations. What abortion proponents have been unable to achieve through the legislatures or the courts, they would now achieve through a so-called health care reform bill.
Also, the bill as written allows executive branch officials to require that private health plans cover abortion simply by defining them as “preventive care.” This is possible because amendments to strike this definition were defeated. Smuggling this kind of fundamental change into the bill is particularly offensive, since, as President Barack Obama himself said, this is supposed to be a health care bill, not an abortion bill. So much for the status quo.
Finally, contrary to previous statements from the president, the bill does not protect freedom of conscience. Conscience-protection language that prohibits discrimination against health care providers who decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions has intentionally been omitted.
Even if the Democrats are able to ram this bill through the Senate, there is still hope that it may founder in the conference with House Democrats. Both abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion advocates on the House side have pledged to vote against the current abortion-funding language in the Reid amendment and called it unacceptable. Since the Democrats are working with a thin margin of support for the bill in the House, it is just possible that the attempt to use health care reform to force taxpayer funding for abortion will end up killing the bill. This is now the central debate in reconciling the differences between the House and Senate Democratic bills. If the issue of abortion funding brings down this bill, it will be a victory for the cause of protecting innocent human life. That would be an irony that Henry Hyde would have greatly appreciated.