The Intermittent Kevin

As rarely and randomly updated as most blogs

Health care: Abortion whatnow?

with 2 comments

We’re about to talk about abortion for awhile, so let’s start off with a precious kitty:

Except it's a baby, which reminds you of abortion. Dammit.

Okay, so. It seems like the abortion issue is one of the more bizarre aspects of the debate—and it’s been a very bizarre debate—because people have been so diametrically opposed on the facts of the matter. On the one hand, a Republican yells out “Baby killer!” (or It’s a baby killer, depending on who you believe) during debate on the bill. On the other hand, some liberal blogs I’ve read have described the bill as the “biggest step backwards in reproductive rights” in many years. So conservatives think the HCR bill loves aborting fetuses, whereas liberals believe that it firebombs Planned Parenthood clinics on its days off.

The good news is this is a matter of fact, not speculation. So we can sort out the actual truth of the matter. Right? Lessee…

This dude named Bart Stupak is maybe the whole reason for this kerfuffle. Back in November, when the House was gonna pass its first version of the bill, he and a Republican tacked on the so-called Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which explicitly prohibited any federal funds from being used to fund abortions. It’s generally accepted that HCR wouldn’t have the support to pass from some key pro-life Democrats without this amendment being added. Fine, whatever, except there’s a law called the Hyde Amendment—on the books since 1976—that pretty much does the exact same thing. What gives, Bart?

Here’s my source for most of the following; I recommend reading it. Bart’s point goes back to the 50 state-wide insurance exchanges that the HCR bill will set up, providing government-subsidized insurance coverage for people through private insurance companies. In fact…

If a health insurer selling through the exchanges wishes to offer abortion coverage—the federal government may not require it to do so, and the state where the exchange is located may (the bill states) pass a law forbidding it to do so—then the insurer must collect from each enrollee (regardless of sex or age) a separate payment to cover abortion. The insurer must keep this pool of money separate to ensure it won’t be commingled with so much as a nickel of government subsidy.

Now a big part of any insurance policy involves everyone pooling their money to cover medical expenses for those who need them. Heck, that’s the definition of insurance. And under the bill, if you get a plan through the exchange, and that plan covers abortions, then you need to pay $1 per month into your plan’s “reproductive rights” (abortion) fund. Unpleasant stuff, if you think about it, but then so are colonoscopies.

I'm gonna get some angry letters for this one...

So the logic of Stupak, the Catholic bishops, and the pro-life Republicans seemed to be: the federal government is providing money to people so they can enroll in insurance plans through the exchanges, and some of those plans offer abortion coverage, and those government-subsidized people will be required to pay $1 a month for those plans to offer the abortion coverage, so it can be said that the federal government’s money is used to help pay for abortions.

Or, as my honorable Congressman put it in an email a couple of weeks ago:

“The bill provides full federal funding for abortions.”

Back to Stupak: his amendment prohibited government subsidies from being provided to plans on the exchange that offered abortion coverage, even though abortion coverage had been carefully segregated out of those plans as described above. Stay with me here: since many poor women will be enrolling in these plans, it’d have the likely side effect (intended or not) that abortion will not be covered on many of the poorest Americans’ insurance plans, which would place it out of the affordable price range for many poor women, who are generally least equipped to properly raise an unwanted baby. Here’s where the liberals were so aghast at the potential reduction in abortion availability, and with some justification (though I think a large number of abortions were already paid for out-of-pocket).

I know, it’s unpleasant to think about. Should I find another kitten picture?

Stupak and his pro-life bloc of Democrats finally relented on the proposed amendment, maybe after someone showed them their convoluted logic in flowchart form. Instead, they got Obama to sign an executive order (original text) basically reaffirming the Hyde Amendment and that it applies to the current HCR legislation as much as it does to any existing law. Same as it ever was, people.

But, yeah, besides the wacky logic listed above and a healthy case of political hyperbole—and really, we’re not lacking for hyperbole this year—I’m not really sure I’ve heard a clear explanation as to why pro-lifers are so convinced this is the Dead Baby Bill.

Deep breaths, everybody.


Written by Kevin Miller

March 26, 2010 at 11:13 am

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2 Responses

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  1. Good article. The Hyde Amendment itself is a pretty pro-life friendly law. It withholds government funding for abortions that are medically necessary for the health of the mother unless her life is at stake. In other words, if her health is in danger, but the pregnancy won’t kill her, then the government doesn’t have to fund the abortion. The Supreme Court upheld the amendment because the law doesn’t place an undue burden upon women; they still have the same option to get an abortion. Further, they found that even though it affects indigent women more than affluent women had no bearing on the Constitutionality of the law.

    Because even the Supreme Court has upheld the Hyde Amendment, I’m not sure what Stupak was going for with the Executive Order. I just figured that the fact that the Order was issued would make it tougher for the court to allow Federal money to go towards abortions when the Justices changed in the future. At the very least, it was effective political gamesmanship on his part to get his name associated with pro-life issues.

    Grant Miller

    March 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    • Good context, thanks. Wow, they really are teaching you legal stuff up there, aren’t they.


      March 28, 2010 at 12:09 am

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