Abortion In The Health Care Bills: What's True?

Melissa Block speaks with Robert Farley, staff writer for Politifact.com, about what is being said regarding abortion in the health care bills before Congress, and whether the claims are true or not.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The fury over health care continues to boil over at town hall meetings. Senator Arlen Specter today got an earful from constituents in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, including this question.

Unidentified Woman: I did not want to pay on a health care plan that includes the right for woman to her unborn baby.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Woman: Is it true that this plan is in the health care bill?

(Soundbite of applause)

BLOCK: Senator Specter pointed out that the Senate has not yet voted on a bill. One idea he said, is to have options.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Democratic, Pennsylvania): If you want to have a health care plan, which does not have payment for abortions, you can have that one where you'll not be charged for somebody who has an abortion. Now if you want a different health care plan, an option where you can have payment for abortion and you pay for it, because there'd be a little bigger premium, you have the choice of being in one plan or the other.

BLOCK: We're going to truth-squad this issue now with Robert Farley, who's written about this for the nonpartisan fact-checking Web site politifact.com. Robert, welcome to the program.

Mr. ROBERT FARLEY (Staff Writer, politifact.com): Oh, thanks.

BLOCK: And let's talk about the bill that has been approved in the House. It includes an amendment from Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps in trying to make the bill abortion neutral. First of all, in the public plan under that bill, is abortion coverage required?

Mr. FARLEY: It's not required but it is allowable.

BLOCK: Okay. So not prohibited, not mandated.

Mr. FARLEY: That's right. There are lots of versions, as you know, of the health care plan that are kicking around in Congress. But interestingly, none of them initially even mentioned the word abortion until this latest version took on this issue last week.

BLOCK: We should explain that the public plan that's being discussed for health care is not like Medicaid. It's not government-funded, but there would be some government subsidies for low-income people to buy insurance. So that does bring up the money question that that questioner in Pennsylvania was alluding to. Would taxpayer dollars, in fact, be paying for abortion through subsidies to those people who are insured?

Mr. FARLEY: Well, this Capps Amendment seeks to answer that question by segregating the money that would be used to cover abortions. It would specifically prohibit federal dollars from being used to subsidize abortions. Any of that money that would be used for abortion coverage would have to be paid through the premiums paid by an insured person.

BLOCK: So not from government funding.

Mr. FARLEY: That's the idea.

BLOCK: Robert, you heard Senator Specter's explanation there of the two options given to people - truth-squad that for us, did he have it right?

Mr. FARLEY: Yes. According to the Capps Amendment, there would be options available for people who wanted to have abortion coverage, as well as for those who do not. In fact, it's required that every region offer one of each type plan.

BLOCK: One that offers it and one that does not.

Mr. FARLEY: Exactly, yes.

BLOCK: You know, abortion rights advocates point this out, that if you look at private insurance plans now most of them cover abortion. And they say, look, if you take that away, you will be taking benefits away from people who get them now.

Mr. FARLEY: Exactly. Studies have shown that somewhere between 45 and 80 percent of the women who have health care coverage through their companies currently get abortion coverage. And so, the argument then is that if the government plan were to disallow that, you would essentially be stripping that coverage from people who already - who currently get that.

BLOCK: Well, when you put the statements that are being made out there through your Truth-O-Meter, as you call it on politifact.com, where do you end up on this question of abortion and plans for heath insurance overhaul?

Mr. FARLEY: Well, we specifically looked at the question of whether federal tax dollars will be used to subsidize abortions. And that kind of language isn't in any of the versions of the plan that are kicking around in Congress. And specifically, the House version, with the Capps Amendment, states that no federal funds could be used to subsidize abortions. And so we ruled that false.

BLOCK: Robert Farley, thanks very much.

Mr. FARLEY: Well, thank you.

BLOCK: Robert Farley is the staff writer for politifact.com.

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