National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Federal Coverage forBirth Control Gives Pro-Abortion Forces a Boost

BY Greg Chesmore

August 16-22, 1998 Issue | Posted 8/16/98 at 1:00 PM


WASHINGTON—Before July, pro-abortion forces could not claim any victories in Congress this year. That changed on July 16 when, after several hours of debate, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to require federal employees' health insurance plans to cover the cost of prescription birth control.

On a 224-198 roll call vote, the House accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) to the Treasury/Postal Appropriations Bill. After Lowey's amendment passed, pro-life stalwart Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) offered an amendment which would have forbidden coverage of prescription drugs designed in to induce abortions, such as RU-486. Smith's amendment was defeated on a 222-198 vote.

An amendment similar to Lowey's, offered by Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), passed the Senate on a voice vote July 29. The different versions of final bill will be worked out in a conference committee.

The passage of the amendment was a blow to pro-life forces and was hailed as “the biggest victory for reproductive rights since the Republicans took over the House” by pro-abortion leaders. The language in the amendments would require almost all of the 374 different health insurance plans used by federal employees to provide coverage for such birth control methods as “the pill,” the IUD, Norplant, and Depo-Provera. All of these birth control devices can act in an abortifacient manner. Currently, only 10% of plans do not cover at least some form of prescription birth control.

The amendments drew an enthusiastic response from pro-abortion leaders who signaled that the effort to require federal health insurance plans to cover prescription birth control was only the first step.

Both the House and Senate versions of the amendment included language exempting religiously-affiliated health plans, but the specific wording was slightly different. This difference will be among those discussed in the conference committee.

Passage of the amendments drew an enthusiastic response from pro-abortion leaders who signaled that the effort to require federal health insurance plans to cover prescription birth control was only the first step.

“This is an important victory in the ongoing battle to provide women with the means to determine when or whether to have a child,” Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a press release. “We applaud the bi-partisan support and hope that this is but a first step in providing contraceptive insurance coverage for all women in the United States.”

Feldt's hope for broader coverage is also pending in Congress. Snowe and Reid have also introduced the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (Senate Bill 766) recently received a hearing in the Senate. This legislation would require all health insurance plans, not just those serving federal employees, to cover prescription birth control.

All of the debate on Capitol Hill over government-mandated coverage of birth control chemicals and devices has sparked a proactive response from a group of pro-life physicians. A group of 84 physicians, organized by American Life League, have signed a letter to Congress documenting the abortifacient nature of “the pill” and other forms of so-called “contraception.” The letter claims that one of the pill's effects is prevention of the fertilized egg's implantation in the lining of uterus, ending the life of the newly-formed human being just days after fertilization.

Among the 84 signatories of the letter, called a “Declaration of Life,” were: Dr. Thomas Hilgers, founding director of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.; Catholic Medical Association President Dr. Paul Byrne; Dr. Anne Marie Manning, diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Karen Dembeck Poehailos of the University of Virginia; Dr. Ronald Prem, professor and chairman emeritus of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and Dr. William Colliton, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University.

Judie Brown, president of American Life League, called the physicians' letter a “milestone in truth.”

“Members of Congress have often argued that there is no scientific proof that the birth control pill actually aborts a child, reason being the inability of the scientist to produce a dead body,” Brown told the Register. “With this Declaration we have collected support for a statement which clearly shows the actions of the pill and many other so-called contraceptives, which should be described as ‘interceptives’ because they intercept and then destroy a new human being.”

Brown said the letter to Congress, and the increasing willingness of physicians to speak out on the facts of chemical abortion, will eventually produce results in the public policy arena.

“We are making progress at every turn and though the Congress may today pass bills in a fog of ethical ignorance, they will not be able to do so with as much ease in coming legislative sessions,” she said.

As the pro-abortion amendments await action by a conference committee, pro-life lobbyists on Capitol Hill are working influence the final outcome. Gail Quinn, executive director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' (NCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, recently wrote a letter to all members of Congress urging them to oppose the amendments.

“A mandate for contraceptive drugs and devices in this program is unwarranted and unprecedented,” Quinn wrote. “The vast majority of federal health plans provide contraceptive coverage now, and enrollees can choose these plans based on the coverage they desire. The status quo, in other words, is ‘pro-choice’ in contraception.”

She specifically reminded members of the FDA-approved “morning after pill” which causes an early abortion.

“A Congress that respects human life must not mandate coverage of this abortifacient drug in all plans,” she wrote.

While the NCCB, American Life League, and others are actively opposing the birth control mandates, some major pro-life groups have chosen not to make the initiatives a priority, fearing that opposition to birth control mandates could hamper efforts to restrict surgical abortions.

ALL's Brown says fear of political fallout isn't a reason to avoid speaking out on the issue, and she is optimistic about the future. “The lack of passion from some in the pro-life movement on questions such as the abortive nature of birth control methods comes from a conviction — which is dead wrong — that surgical abortion can be attacked and battle won without addressing the root cause, which is the contraceptive mentality,” she said. “But I see more and more ears and eyes opening to the truth.”

Meanwhile, both sides are anticipating an active conference committee where the birth control mandate amendments will be addressed in early September.

Greg Chesmore writes from Bloomington, Indiana.