September 29, 2009

Some Objectivity on Abortion and Healthcare Reform

By Father Thomas Berg *

Since I last wrote in August about the healthcare reform bills currently before Congress, there remains much public consternation and confusion as to whether these bills will or will not provide government funded abortion coverage. This concern is not surprising when public opposition to such coverage is mounting as demonstrated by recent polls. Last Tuesday, a new survey commissioned by the USCCB revealed that fully 60% of those who support health care reform oppose government funding for plans that include abortion. These results confirm similar results found in a poll commissioned by the Susan B. Anthony List and a recent Rasmussen poll.

Upon careful analysis, the truth remains that if passed in any of its current forms, legislation in both the House and Senate will authorize broad federal funding of abortion through both private and publicly subsidized healthcare.  Here's why.

In late July, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the House bill (H.R. 3200) which was proposed by Rep. Lois Capps (D-California), as a putative "compromise" on the abortion coverage issue. An honest and careful reading of the Capps amendment reveals a deceptive use of linguistic gymnastics.  And quite to the contrary, we discover that it explicitly authorizes the Secretary of the Health and Human Services to include coverage for elective abortions in the services offered under the public option, and mandates coverage for current Medicaid abortions.
If retained in a final form of the bill, the Capps amendment would indeed allow broad federal funding of abortion for the first time in American history.  Specifically, H.R. 3200 states that some abortions (in cases or rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother) "shall" be covered -- thus mandating coverage -- by the "public option" plan. The Capps amendment grants power to the secretary of Health and Human Services to use public dollars for abortion, establishing that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing" abortion services that are currently prohibited from federal funding -- principally elective abortions. 

Dorinda Bordlee, legal counsel for Bioethics Defense Fund, a nationally known expert on bioethics legislation and pro-life issues, has spent weeks in painstaking review of the various legislative drafts as they have emerged. Bordlee concludes that, "as a lawyer, the President is choosing his words very carefully to misguide citizens about the fact that the proposals he supports authorize government funding of abortion on demand."  That conclusion was recently confirmed by the independent, non-partisan of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania which determined that "despite what Obama said, the House bill would allow abortion to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans."

In sum, unless Congress specifically excludes abortion from coverage, it is a certainty that abortion will be part of that package either because it will be overtly required by the Secretary of HHS, or because the courts will determine that the broadly worded coverage requirements include abortion. Several attempts by pro-life congressmen to amend the House bill with language specifically prohibiting such a mandate for abortion coverage have all been rejected.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, recently introduced a proposal (America's Healthy Future Act) not yet in bill form which, while not contemplating a public option, is nonetheless geared to secure abortion coverage in a manner very similar to the Capps amendment, including the mandated coverage (in the minimum benefits package) of those abortions currently open to federal funding under the Hyde Amendment.  Additionally, the Baucus plan provides $6 billion for the establishment of health insurance cooperatives which would be permitted to cover abortion.  And unlike the current federal practice of not subsidizing plans that cover abortion, the Baucus plan would allow refundable, advance-able tax credits and cost-sharing credits to be applied to plans that pay for elective abortions.

The current proposals embrace the fallacy that abortion is healthcare.  We know the truth to be otherwise.  If the Obama administration insists on lifting current restrictions on federally funded abortions by means of healthcare reform legislation, Americans are at least entitled to an honest admission of that objective, and to truth in packaging. 


Father Thomas Berg is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie). More of Fr. Berg’s publications are available at

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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