Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, seen here in June 2009, is speaking out about public money being used to fund abortions.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, seen here in June 2009, is speaking out about public money being used to fund abortions. Susan Walsh/AP
It is easy to forget that there are pro-life Democrats, and even pro-life Democrats committed enough on the issue to stand athwart health-care legislation coveted by President Obama. But Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) threatens to do exactly that, while Nancy Pelosi and her circle are retreating behind closed doors to frustrate his efforts.
What pro-lifers, Democratic and Republican, seek is simple and should be noncontroversial: that public money not be used to fund abortions. Abortion is the most controversial subject in American politics, and anything that modifies its status quo needs careful consideration — consideration that is independent of other complex issues, such as health-care reform. Under current law, the federal government is prohibited both from funding most abortions and from spending money to subsidize premiums for private plans that cover elective abortions. Stupak seeks only to preserve that arrangement. He proposes no new restrictions on abortion.
The Pelosi health-care bill, on the other hand, authorizes the public plan to cover all elective abortions — and it will certainly do so. Can anyone imagine the Obama administration's HHS deciding otherwise? And people receiving federal subsidies would be able to use them to purchase private insurance plans covering abortion. Which is to say that federal funds will, in a break with longstanding policy, be entangled with abortion.
With the public option, there will not even be a chance to opt out of abortion coverage. As Time magazine has reported, all enrollees in the public option will be required, by law, to put at least $1 a month into a fund that will pay for abortions, and the legislation explicitly proclaims that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing for" abortions.
As for the premium subsidies, Democrats are attempting to use a bit of misdirection to obscure the reality. The insurance companies involved may be private, but the fact that taxpayers' dollars may first move through private hands before they reach the abortionist does not make the subsidy any less a subsidy.
Stupak's challenge reveals something important: Democrats' repeated assurances that the health-care bill would not fund abortions were dishonest. Factcheck.org, hardly a pro-life mouthpiece, has found President Obama misleading the American public on the subject: "Despite what Obama said," Factcheck writes, "the House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans." If the Democrats had been telling the truth about funding abortions through the health-care bill, then Stupak's proposed amendment would be superfluous, and its inclusion in the legislation unremarkable.
Instead, Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders worry it will pass. They have engaged in backroom maneuvers to block a vote on the amendment and substitute a fig-leaf "fix" of their own. The fake compromise is the Ellsworth amendment, which, relying upon the fiction that funds paid into a federal program are private "insurance premiums," establishes an abortion money-laundering procedure that would do nothing to stop public funds from being used to procure abortions. Studies of the impact of public funding of abortion strongly suggest that the effect of this amendment would be to increase the abortion rate a great deal — and make a mockery of the president's professed commitment to finding common ground with pro-lifers in an effort to reduce that rate.
If President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and other Democratic leaders want to have a national debate about abortion at this moment, we welcome that. But cowering in the legislative murk surrounding health-care reform is underhanded, and ought to be denounced as such by people of good faith, Republican or Democratic, pro-life or pro-choice.