Combative press conference highlights continued dispute on abortion in health care bill

Douglas Johnson
Douglas Johnson

.- Persistent questions about abortion funding in President Obama's Affordable Care Act arose again on Oct. 20 in a telephone press conference hosted by the bill's supporters at Catholics United. Heated discussion ensued between the organization's executive director Chris Korzen, and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee over a controversial ad campaign targeting a Democrat who supported the bill.

Representative Steve Driehaus (D – Ohio) previously filed a complaint to the state's election commission due to a proposed billboard campaign by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. He claimed that the campaign would have illegally misrepresented his voting record by stating that “Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer funded abortion.” With a full hearing by the state's election commission scheduled for October 28, SBA List has filed its own lawsuit, alleging that Ohio's regulations of electoral advertising violate their right to free speech.

On Wednesday, Korzen accused the SBA List of “lying” to voters. The Catholics United leader reiterated his group's position that the bill “maintains current restrictions prohibiting taxpayer funds for abortions,” alongside the executive order of President Obama intended to prevent such funding.

But Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said Korzen's defenses of the bill ignored a series of omissions and loopholes that exist alongside those “current restrictions.”

By those alternate routes –such as federal funding for community health centers and payment of premiums for plans that include abortion-- Johnson said that the Affordable Care Act clearly authorized abortion funding.

While some participants in the telephone conference challenged his assertive participation, Johnson  noted that he represented “over 300,000 readers” of his organization's National Right to Life News.

NRLC's director referred all participants in the conference call to the 23-page affidavit he filed with the Ohio Elections Commission on October 11, in support of the SBA List. He stated that the document, available on his organization's website, exhaustively vindicated the SBA List's attack on Driehaus.

That affidavit incorporated the objections of both the General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and its Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. The secretariat stated in April 2010 that the Affordable Care Act both “uses federal funds to subsidize health plans that cover abortions,” and offers other funds that “can be used for elective abortions.”

The general counsel has similarly maintained that President Obama's executive order is selective and limited in its restrictions on abortion funding.

A group supporting Driehaus and his legal challenge, Democrats For Life of America, also stated on October 15 that it had filed an affidavit with the Ohio Elections Commission, although it had not made the document available as of Wednesday evening. A federal judge is expected to rule on SBA List's counter-suit this week, to determine the constitutionality of Ohio's laws on political advertising.


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