.- A federal regulation requiring Americans to fund elective abortions under the health care reform law has yet to change and continues to spark outrage from pro-life advocates across the country.
Richard Doerflinger, secretariat of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA on March 19 that the regulation presents “nothing new” but merely repeats what the health care law said from the beginning.
“If people are surprised, that is because they believed false and misleading accounts of the Act two years ago, instead of the accurate descriptions by the bishops’ conference and other groups,” Doerflinger said.
He explained that the funding of abortion was among the bishops’ reasons for opposing the final law, despite their “longstanding support for health care reform.”
On March 12, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a final rule on the implementation of the state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Included in the regulation is a provision regulating involuntary funding of insurance plans that cover elective abortions.
During debates over the health care overhaul, President Barack Obama promised that federal money would not be used to fund abortion under the legislation. Under pressure from legislators who threatened to vote against the bill, he signed a March 2010 executive order repeating this promise.
However, critics say that the administration has now implemented an accounting gimmick in order to provide funding for abortion in the form of a mandatory insurance premium rather than a tax payment.
Doerflinger said that although many private health plans currently cover abortion, there will be several significant changes under the new law.
First, he said, plans that choose to cover abortion will now receive federal tax subsidies, forcing all taxpayers to contribute to them.
This new policy is contrary to that put in place by the Hyde amendment, as well as every other major federal program that prohibited tax money from subsidizing abortions, he noted.
In addition, Doerflinger explained, many Americans will be “forced to pay directly for other people’s abortions as well.”
This will take place through a monthly surcharge for people enrolled in plans that cover abortion. According to federal regulations, this surcharge will be at least one dollar per month; however, there is no maximum rate, and nothing prohibits insurance companies from charging substantially more to pay for abortions.
Of particular concern, noted Doerflinger, is the fact that insurers will not be allowed to let people simply decline coverage of abortion and refuse to pay that part of the premium, even on the ground of religious or moral objections.
He added that the federal government prohibits insurers from giving enrollees a “specific warning about the fact that they are buying abortion coverage.”
It also forbids insurers from telling enrollees how much of their money is going towards other people’s abortions, thereby making it very difficult or even impossible to withhold this portion of the premium.
According to the federal regulation, notice of the abortion surcharge does not need to be mentioned in a plan’s advertising and must be disclosed “only as part of the summary of benefits and coverage explanation, at the time of enrollment.”
Although states may choose to “opt out” of covering abortion in their health care plans – and 15 states have already done so – they may still be required to pay for such coverage through the “multi-state plans” that are to be created under the health care law.
Details for these plans, which will be administered by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, have not yet been released.
However, concerns have been raised that if some of these plans are permitted to cover abortion, they can do so even in states within their multi-state region that have banned such coverage in their state exchanges.
“Pro-life Americans shouldn’t be forced to have their premiums used to pay for other people’s abortions,” said Mary Harned, staff counsel with Americans United for Life.
She explained to CNA that allowing insurance plans that cover abortions to be subsidized by the government is a “departure from existing laws” that is “really no different than directly paying for the abortions.”
She added that the lack of a conscientious exemption from the surcharge means that “there’s no real choice in this matter for the enrollee.”
Harned said that many people must use the insurance plan offered by their employers, so switching to a plan that does not cover abortion is not an option for them.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the congressional pro-life caucus, added that burying the abortion surcharge in the summary of benefits will mean that many Americans “could easily miss the fine print” while looking for insurance options.
“Once enrolled, even pro-life Americans will be forced to pay for other people’s abortions,” he warned in a March 15 statement.
Smith called the regulation “a mere bookkeeping exercise” that still requires Americans to be “complicit in abortion” against their will.
He emphasized that the current age of ultrasound imaging has allowed for a revolution in the true health care services that can be provided to children in the womb.
“Abortion isn’t health care,” he said.