WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently joined the push to enact the first statutory ban on the use of federal taxpayer funding for elective abortions.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 5939) would bar federal funds from elective abortions under all federal programs — not just the components of the health-care overhaul. It would move beyond existing elective abortion-funding bans by establishing the measure as a law, rather than the current practice of attaching annual amendments or riders to more than 12 different federal department spending bills.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, sent a letter to all members of the House of Representatives on Aug. 20 urging them to support the legislation as a way to address abortion-funding provisions of both the health-care overhaul and the ongoing spending by other federal agencies.
“When you have a policy against abortion funding that has to be implemented through over a dozen different riders on different appropriations bills and through provisions of different authorizing bills, something [funding abortions] always gets through,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
Examples of below-the-radar taxpayer funding of abortion include the discoveries in recent years that both the Indian Health Service and Medicare’s insurance for chronically ill younger people funded elective abortions.
The statutory abortion-funding ban also would cover numerous known and as yet unknown provisions of the health-care overhaul law. For instance, it would have avoided the need for a July regulatory order by the Obama administration barring abortion funding from high-risk insurance pools. That area of the health-care law was not explicitly covered by his executive order issued right after the law’s passage, which was described at the time as a blanket abortion-funding ban.
Such abortion-funding holes were obvious to the new bill’s leading co-sponsor, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., who was among the few self-described pro-life Democrats to oppose the final version of the health-care overhaul based on concerns that it would fund elective abortions.
“We can debate the efficacy of the [Obama] executive order, but it’s clear that federal money will go to insurance plans that fund abortions,” Lipinski told the Register. “There’s no debate about that.”
Lipinski said he is trying to garner more Democratic support for the funding-ban bill, which collected 166 co-sponsors in the week it was introduced — including 20 Democrats.
The new legislation, which faces an uphill battle in a Congress led by staunchly pro-abortion Democrats, may garner additional supporters after Congress reconvenes in September.
The measure’s co-sponsors include some of the high-profile pro-life Democrats whose last-minute switch in favor of the health-care reform bill allowed its narrow passage.
Pro-life activists have said that the Democrats’ support for the new measure proves their point during the health-care debate that the $1 trillion legislation had numerous known and surreptitious ways to funnel federal taxpayer funds to elective abortions.
“In December [of 2009, pro-life Democrats] said the abortion-funding ban would require a statutory fix, but in March [of 2010] they said an executive order would be fine. So what changed?” asked Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group.
Dannenfelser, who describes the new abortion-funding ban bill as a “top priority,” has led her group to target for defeat this year some of the highest-profile pro-life Democrats who voted for the health-care bill.
“Health care was the biggest abortion vote since Roe v. Wade,” Dannenfelser said.
Her group already claims some credit for the planned retirement of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who led the group of pro-life Democrats who switched to support the health-care bill at the last minute. Stupak announced his retirement shortly after the vote.
Stupak, co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, also has yet to sign on as a co-sponsor of the abortion-funding ban bill.
Another pro-life Democrat who voted for the health-care bill, Allan Mollohan of West Virginia, was defeated in his primary after the Susan B. Anthony List spent $78,000 against him.
Some argue that such political consequences amount to a circular firing squad within the pro-life community, which faces a solid majority of pro-abortion senators who would likely block the funding-ban bill.
“Instead of the groups going out there and trying to get rid of our pro-life majority in the House by attacking pro-life Democrats, everyone in the pro-life community should be focused on trying to get a pro-life Senate,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life.
Dannenfelser countered that the health-care vote showed that “we already lost the pro-life majority in the House.”
The political fallout from the health-care overhaul may help the abortion-funding ban gain momentum through the support of pro-life Democrats who voted for the health-care overhaul despite red flags from every major pro-life organization, according to congressional sources. Those same Democrats — often from pro-life districts — may hope their support of the funding-ban legislation gives them political cover in the upcoming election.
Those political dynamics may drive 43 more Democrats who had previously raised concerns about abortion funding in health-care reform before voting for it to become co-sponsors of the funding ban, according to congressional supporters. Another 30 Republicans who supported efforts to ban abortion funding in the health-care overhaul also are expected to throw their support behind the abortion-funding ban.
If the expected support materializes, supporters of the measure may submit a discharge petition, which if signed by 218 members of the House would require Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on the bill.
Said Lipinski, enactment of the bill “would be much better than having to go through a battle every year on abortion funding.”
Rich Daly writes from Washington.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Rep. Jason Altmire had voted for the federal health-care reform bill earlier this year. He voted against it. But he does plan to cosponsor the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.