Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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As the Senate voted to open debate on its health-care reform bill, the U.S. bishops’ conference expressed grave concerns about funding of abortions.
BY Rich DalyRegister Correspondent
WASHINGTON — An unusual Saturday
night vote launched Senate debate on a health-care overhaul bill that pro-life
advocates oppose as a massive new funding source for elective abortions.
The Senate voted along party lines,
60-39, on Nov. 21 to begin debate on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act (H.R. 3590), which would reorganize the health-care system in the United
States. Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio did not vote.
The debate on the bill is likely to last for several weeks, with a vote on
final passage expected before Christmas.
Supporters of the bill praised it
for requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance and provide subsidies
to those who cannot afford it. It also drew praise for new insurance
industry regulations, which would ban the practice of denying coverage on the
basis of pre-existing medical conditions.
The House of Representatives passed
its own health-care overhaul bill two weeks earlier.
Among the most significant differences in the two bills was their approach to
abortion funding. The House amended its bill to bar the use of federal taxpayer
funds for elective abortions through either a so-called public option insurance
plan or through private insurance plans offered through a new national
insurance marketplace. Individuals could buy riders that would cover abortions
under private plans.
However, the Senate bill lacked any
provisions barring the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions in either
the public option or through the exchange.
The omission of provisions barring
such funding would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate
both insurance programs to require coverage of elective abortions.
The Senate bill drew opposition from
many abortion opponents.
“The bill provides federal funding
for plans that cover abortion, and creates an unprecedented mandatory ‘abortion
surcharge’ in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly
and explicitly for other people’s abortions,” wrote three Catholic bishops on
behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Nov. 20 letter to
The bishops wrote that if the
language is not modified to bar public funding of abortion then the conference
would oppose the entire health-care overhaul.
Supporters of abortion access hailed
the Senate vote as a victory.
“This is a bill about
health-insurance reform, not about expanding or contracting access to abortion
services,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.
She said the bill’s abortion
language echoed an amendment that she had sought to include in the final House
bill and would provide a “reasonable compromise” on the issue by trying to
segregate taxpayer funds to only the non-abortion-related portions of insurance
Need Democratic Support
ability of the Capps amendment to keep taxpayer money from funding abortion was
dismissed by pro-life Democrats and Republicans in the House who voted instead
for an amendment offered by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
“President Obama and [Senate Majority Leader Harry]
Reid know that the substance of these abortion-promoting policies is deeply
unpopular, so they seek to conceal the reality with layers of contorted
definitions and money-laundering schemes,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative
director of the National Right to Life Committee, about the Senate and Capps
The Senate bill is expected to draw numerous
amendments to try to strip out federal taxpayer funding for elective abortions
that pro-life activists worry could result in more than a million additional
pregnancy terminations annually.
Any such amendment will need the support of 51
senators, and it is unclear whether all 40 Republicans and at least 11
Democrats would support such an amendment. All pro-life amendments are expected
to draw significant opposition from pro-abortion forces who were caught off
guard by the abortion-defunding vote in the House version of health-care
Several Democratic senators have expressed a desire
for such language defunding abortion in the Senate bill, including Sen. Robert
Casey Jr., D-Pa.
continues to work with his colleagues in the Senate and with the White House to
ensure that the Senate health-care reform bill protects existing federal and
state conscience protections, existing state abortion laws and contains strong
language to prohibit federal funds from being used to fund abortions,” said
Larry Smar, communications director for Casey.
It remains unclear whether Casey or
any other Democratic senator with a pro-life voting record would vote to oppose
the overall health-care bill if the abortion-defunding language is not added.
Such a threat by a group of 41 pro-life Democrats in the House was behind the
last-minute vote on abortion funding in that chamber.
“A vote to close debate without the
addition of strong pro-life language will be a vote for government-funded
abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List,
which seeks to elect pro-life women to Congress. “That would be the ultimate
betrayal of pro-life constituents and even self-described pro-choice Americans
who oppose government-funded abortion.”
group and other pro-life organizations have launched national campaigns to have
members contact their senators specifically to urge that the bill explicitly
bar taxpayer funds for abortions.
The Reid health-care bill includes
numerous other controversial provisions for Catholic and family groups,
including the creation of a national home-visitation program that would target,
among others, families with tobacco users and members of the military or
veterans. That provision is opposed by groups such as the Home School Legal
Defense Association, which is concerned it would spawn invasive government
programs that would dictate educational and religious decisions to families
under threat of removal of their children.
Senate debate will likely include renewed controversy around the role of
proposed expert panels to determine the relative merits of different medical
treatments and tests. Newly released guidelines on breast-cancer screening from
one such existing panel caused a furor among cancer patient advocates and
members of Congress. Democrats maintained the new panels would be purely
advisory, but Republicans countered that the panels are intended to control
costs and would eventually dictate which treatments would be covered by public
and private insurers. Similar panels in European health-care systems are
routinely used to determine health-care coverage.
Any bill that passes the Senate must
be reconciled with the version that the House passed. After identical bills are
passed by both chambers, the legislation will go to the president for his
Rich Daly writes
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