Free Gov’t Abortions
WASHINGTON — Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions, a decision that would affect millions of women and recast federal policy on the divisive issue.
Federal funds for abortions are now restricted to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother. Abortion opponents say those restrictions should carry over to any health insurance sold through a new marketplace envisioned under the legislation, an exchange where people would choose private coverage or the public plan.
Abortion rights supporters say that would have the effect of denying coverage for abortion to millions of women who now have it through workplace insurance and are expected to join the exchange.
Advocates on both sides are preparing for a renewed battle over abortion, which could jeopardize political support for President Barack Obama’s health care initiative aimed at covering nearly 50 million uninsured and restraining medical costs.
“We want to see people who have no health insurance get it, but this is a sticking point,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We don’t want health care reform to be the vehicle for mandating abortion.”
Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said abortion opponents “want an abortion ban in private insurance, and that’s not neutrality at all — that’s a radical departure from current law. They want something far more extreme than where I think the American public is.”
A compromise approved by a House committee last week attempted to balance questions of federal funding, personal choice and the conscience rights of clinicians. It would allow the public plan to cover abortion but without using federal funds, only dollars from beneficiary premiums.
Likewise, private plans in the new insurance exchange could opt to cover abortion, but no federal subsidies would be used to pay for the procedure.
“It’s a sham,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life. “It’s a bookkeeping scheme. The plan pays for abortion, and the government subsidizes the plan.”
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