Month: March 2010

Overlooked aspect of health care bill could fund abortion

WASHINGTON–As Democrats prepare for what likely will be one final push for a health care bill, pro-life groups are targeting several aspects of the proposal, including billions of dollars in new funding for community health centers that the groups say could go to fund abortions.

Funding for the community health centers largely has been overlooked in past months, often overshadowed by debates over whether public and private insurance plans that receive federal money will be allowed to cover abortion. But the controversy over community health centers — and what restrictions they would have — is just as significant, the groups say.

The Senate passed its version of health care on Christmas Eve, but only after adopting a last-hour “manager’s amendment” that included, among other things, $7 billion in additional funding for the nation’s 1,200-plus community health centers (CHCs), which provide health care for the uninsured and underserved. Some of the centers are run by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

President Obama’s proposal last month went even further than the Senate bill and provided for $11 billion in CHC funding. The House bill that passed in November had $12 billion in CHC funding, but that bill included tough pro-life language championed by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan that prevented CHCs from using tax dollars to cover elective abortions. The Senate bill had no such language and Obama’s proposal mentioned nothing about abortion.

The controversial abortion compromise backed by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska — language criticized by pro-lifers — did not cover CHCs, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

As a general principle, if a health procedure is to be restricted, specific language must be present in the bill. But there is no language in the Senate bill (H.R. 3590) that would prevent “the use of the new funds to pay for abortions performed at Community Health Centers,” Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life’s legislative director, said.

He added that his group’s concern is not “merely hypothetical.”

“Two pro-abortion groups, the Reproductive Health Access Project and the Abortion Access Project, are already actively campaigning for Community Health Centers to perform elective abortions,” Johnson wrote in a Feb. 22 analysis. “In short, the Senate bill would allow direct federal funding of abortion on demand through Community Health Centers.”

Other pro-life groups — including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Concerned Women for America and Americans United for Life — have expressed similar concerns.

Johnson says the Senate bill’s funding of CHCs would not be restricted by the much-debated Hyde Amendment, which must be renewed each year and which applies only to the Department of Health and Human Services’ annual appropriations bill and which prevents Medicaid from covering elective abortions. The $7 billion for CHCs in the Senate bill “would not flow through that pipeline” and therefore would be unrestricted, Johnson says.

The issue of federal funding of abortion in the health care bill has received little mainstream attention in recent weeks but did make it briefly into the bipartisan health care summit Feb. 25, thanks to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

“For 30 years we’ve had a federal law that says that we’re not going to have taxpayer funding of abortions,” Boehner said, speaking to President Obama. “We’ve had this debate in the House; it was a very serious debate. But in the House, the House spoke, and the House upheld the language we’ve had in law for 30 years — that there will be no taxpayer funding of abortions. This bill that we have before us — and there was no reference to that issue in your outline, Mr. President — begins for the first time in 30 years allowing for the taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Obama did not address the abortion issue directly in his response but did claim that it and other charges by Boehner “just aren’t true.”

Minutes later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called Boehner’s charge “not factual.”

“The law of the land is there is no public funding of abortion, and there is no public funding of abortion in these bills,” Pelosi said.

Boehner is pro-life; Obama and Pelosi are pro-choice.

Johnson said the Senate’s pro-choice language would face opposition in the House.

“A substantial number of pro-life Democrats in the House, including some lawmakers whose names have not been mentioned on the various published lists, have told their constituents that they are not going to vote for the Senate-passed bill because of the abortion problems,” Johnson said. “For pro-life Democrats, President Obama’s proposal only makes matters worse. The only thing that would fix the Senate bill on abortion is permanent, bill-wide language that is functionally identical to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment adopted in the House.”