Abortion Still A Sticking Point In Health Care

Abortion still drives some anti-abortion rights Democrats away from the health care bill. The dispute isn't just about abortion, it's also about what the bills actually say about abortion. Timothy Jost, law professor at Washington and Lee University, offers his insight.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The abortion issue still drives some pro-life Democrats away from the health-care bill. This is not just a dispute about abortion. It's a dispute about what the health-care bills actually say about abortion.

Law professor Timothy Jost, of Washington and Lee University, specializes in health law and health policy. And he has studied what the health bill and the Senate bill say on the subject.

Welcome to the program.

Professor TIMOTHY JOST (Law, Washington and Lee University): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, is the Senate bill more tolerant of abortion and federal spending on abortion than the House bill is?

Prof. JOST: No, it is not.

SIEGEL: In the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement against the Senate bill, Cardinal Francis George wrote this: The Senate bill deliberately excludes the language of the Hyde Amendment. It expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures.

You would say that's not true?

Prof. JOST: That is not true. The bill explicitly cross-references the Hyde Amendment at a couple of different places. One is, it provides that no federal funding for the new premium subsidies or cost-sharing reduction subsidies - the money that's going to go help people buy health insurance - that none of that money can be used to pay for abortions.

And secondly, it provides that the conscience protections, and the protections against discrimination against providers who are unwilling to provide or pay for abortion - is also preserved under the Senate bill.

Now, there is one dispute, and that is whether appropriations in the Senate bill for community health centers would be covered by the Hyde Amendment.

SIEGEL: Yes. Let me read to you - and we heard about this in Barbara Bradley Hagerty's report as well - Cardinal George wrote this: The new funds the Senate bill appropriates over the next five years for community health centers will be available by statute for elective abortions even though the present regulations do conform to the Hyde Amendment. Regulations, however, can be changed at will unless they are governed by statute.

Prof. JOST: Well, that's just simply not true. Number one, what the Senate bill does is appropriate additional funds for the community health centers to enhance funding that is otherwise available through the regular Health and Human Services appropriation bill. And all of that money is covered by the Hyde Amendment.

The second thing is, regulations cannot be changed at will. Changing a regulation is a complicated process that takes quite a period of time, and it's a political process. Community health centers have never provided abortions, and they have said that they never intend to provide abortions.

SIEGEL: You've studied both the House and the Senate bill.

Prof. JOST: Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: How would you characterize both of them - on a crude spectrum, from pro-choice to pro-life? How do these bills look to you?

Prof. JOST: I think they are both basically pro-life bills. I think they are bills that - the Senate bill has some provisions that are stronger than the House. Senate bill, for example, provides $250 million to provide support for pregnant and parenting women who want to bear and keep a child. That's not in the House bill. So there are some provisions in the Senate bill that are stronger than the House.

The bishops prefer the approach that the House bill uses to the provisions of the Senate bill. But they're basically equivalent. Both bills prohibit federal funding for abortions through the premium subsidies. And as a practical matter, both of them are going to make it more difficult to get abortion coverage through an insurance policy. That is true under the status quo.

SIEGEL: Professor Jost, you've been studying health law for quite a while. Is there something about these bills that is especially confusing or opaque that would lead to these very different interpretations, whether one is much more pro-life than the other? Or are people just being tendentious in their readings of these two bills?

Prof. JOST: I think people are being distrustful in their reading. I think that there's a tendency to sort of assume the devious motives on the parts of others, you know - which may, in part, be justified. This has been a pretty intense debate in our country.

But I think in this case, it is just not justified, that - I think that the senators who drafted these amendments are pro-life senators who intended to make sure that federal funding doesn't go for abortion. And so I think that there's sort of an unwarranted belief that people are proceeding in bad faith when in fact, they're proceeding in the best of good faith and trying to achieve the same goals.

SIEGEL: Professor Timothy Jost, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. JOST: Certainly.

SIEGEL: Professor Jost is a law professor who specializes in health law and health policy at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One final note, House Democrat Dale Kildee of Michigan announced today that he will support the health care bill. Kildee is a Catholic. He spent six years studying to be a priest. And he said this in a statement: I'm convinced that the Senate language maintains the Hyde Amendment, which states that no federal money can be used for abortion.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.