Whenever we have discussed national health care here, I warned that proponents would try to take things too far at too great a cost, and that their desire to cover abortion could kill the bill.  That very scenario is playing out. Amendments in the House Committees to explicitly bar abortion funding from the government plan were repeatedly defeated—as politicians promised abortion wasn’t in the bill.  Then, an amendment passed that permits the Secretary of HHS to cover abortion, blowing up that myth.  And, to make sure that government funding could be added in the regulations, health care was put in a different government account than the usual HHS appropriation—meaning the Hyde Amendment would not be relevant since it only applies to HHS appropriated funds.  Tricky and disrespectful of democracy. (More on that particular political ploy here.)

Now, the Senate is taking up the issue.  An amendment has been offered to prevent people who receive federal premium subsidies from using those taxpayer funds to pay for policies that cover abortion. From the story:

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions.

Proponents of government funding for abortion point to an accounting gimmick that they claim means that the current bill would not subsidize abortion:
Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.

But opponents say that is not good enough, because only a line on an insurers’ accounting ledger would divide the federal money from the payments for abortions. The subsidies would still help people afford health coverage that included abortion.

Opponents are right. Money is fungible. The bill, as it currently stands, would permit federally subsidized abortion.

The Hyde Amendment is essential for national comity because it does not impinge on the abortion right, while at the same time, protects abortion opponents from becoming complicit in pregnancy terminations through the use of their tax dollars.  But that comity and basic respect is under sustained attack in the health care debate in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.  And it just might tear the whole reform effort apart.

Here is where I come down: A healthy pregnancy is not an illness because the baby is unwanted.  Tens of millions of people should not have to help fund an elective medical procedure not related to protecting physical health that they find morally abhorrent.  On a broader note, the only way this will be even close to affordable is to cover only fundamental medical needs, meaning that the desired extras will have to be paid privately (yes, including Viagra).

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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