Citing new memo, senators urge HHS to restrict abortion funding in high-risk pools

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.


Responding to a new report that the 2010 health care law lacks restrictions that prohibit states from using federal funding to pay for abortions in the new high risk insurance pools, 13 Republican senators have written to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to urge regulatory action.

“We request your immediate assistance to ensure that federal dollars will not be used to pay for elective abortions,” the Senators’ July 28 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius read. They asked Sebelius to identify specific actions to be taken and to set a timeline for them by July 30.

The letter cited a July 23 memo from the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service (CRS). The Senators said abortion funding restrictions in the health care legislation and in President Barack Obama’s executive order “fail to address high risk pools and the $5 billion in funding provided for their operation.”

CNA spoke with Janine D’Addario of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who confirmed the authenticity of the memo, pointing to the Senate Health Committee's website for the “authoritative version.”

According to the CRS memo, the executive order does not “specifically” address the question of high-risk pools but directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the HHS Secretary to develop guidelines segregating federal funds from abortion funds.

Additionally, the CRS memo said that the HHS request for state proposals and the HHS model contracts “neither explicitly provide the authority to cover elective abortions with federal funds, nor do they specifically prohibit the use of federal funds.”

The senators’ letter noted that, according to the memo, current HHS restrictions on federal funds for elective abortion “would also not appear to apply to the funds appropriated” for the high-risk pools.

At the same time, the Congressional Research memo also noted the July 14 HHS press release which stated that abortions will not be covered, except under the conditions cited by the Hyde Amendment. The memo added that the press release is “not a formal policy issuance” but said it was “reasonable” to conclude that the HHS intends to issue regulations formalizing its stated policy.

The senators said they were “pleased” to see the recent HHS statements on abortion funding restrictions, but added that these statements do not have the force of law and will not prohibit the use of funds for elective abortions.

“We urge you to act immediately to prohibit all states operating (high-risk pools) from covering elective abortions,” the senators’ letter read. “Absent such contractual requirements, it will be necessary for Congress to modify the current law to include restrictions to prevent federal dollars from being used to provide such coverage.”

Signatories to the letter included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.