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The latest abortion funding myth

July 14, 2010, 12:32 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

The National Right to Life Committee claimed yesterday that the Obama administration has allocated federal funds to Pennsylvania to cover abortion. Family Research Council and House Minority Leader John Boehner quickly echoed the claim. According to NRLC’s press release:

“The Obama Administration will give Pennsylvania $160 million in federal tax funds, which we’ve discovered will pay for insurance plans that cover any legal abortion,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of right-to-life organizations in all 50 states. “This is just the first proof of the phoniness of President Obama’s assurances that federal funds would not subsidize abortion — but it will not be the last.”

This not true. The following passage on page 14 of the Pennsylvania high-risk insurance pool plan clearly states:

Abortions: Includes only abortions and contraceptives that satisfy the requirements of 18 Pa.C.S. § 3204-3206 and 35 P.S. §§10101, 10103-10105.

1. Elective abortions are not covered. Services rendered to treat illness or injuries resulting from an elective abortion are covered. [emphasis added]

NRLC argues that this prohibition is meaningless:

[T]he proposal specifies that the coverage “includes only abortions and contraceptives that satisfy the requirements of” several specific statutes, the most pertinent of which is 18 Pa. C.S. § 3204, which says that an abortion is legal in Pennsylvania (consistent with Roe v. Wade) if a single physician believes that it is “necessary” based on “all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age) relevant to the well-being of the woman.” Indeed, the cited statute provides only a single circumstance in which an abortion prior to 24 weeks is NOT permitted under the Pennsylvania statute: “No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion.”

However, a statement subsequently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services reiterates that no federal funds will finance elective abortions:

Under the Affordable Care Act and the President’s related Executive Order, federal funds made available to states for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan may not be used to fund abortion. We will reiterate this policy in guidance to those running the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan at both the state and federal levels.

Rather than checking the facts, National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council and John Boehner chose to spread misinformation on the sensitive topic of abortion. It’s also worth noting that Family Research Council’s press release called not only for federal action to ensure that abortion services not receive federal funds, but also for wholesale repeal of healthcare reform and electoral defeat of Members of Congress who voted for it. Once again we see the issue of abortion used as a political weapon serving partisan ends.

UPDATE: NPR’s Julie Rovner filed a story that further dispels these misleading attacks, Key excerpt:

Only there’s one problem. Both Obama Administration and Pennsylvania officials say the NRLC’s interpretation is simply incorrect — elective abortions will NOT be allowed in the new program.

“Pennsylvania has not signed a contract yet to start operating their Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan,” said HHS Spokeswoman Jenny Backus. And when they do, she added, “our contract that states are signing says clearly that we will be issuing guidance on the administration of Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan so they know they will have to live by our guidance per the contract” when it comes to abortion coverage.

And that’s no problem, says Rosanne Placey, of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance. “Very simply, federal law controls. We know that,” she said. “We absolutely do not cover elective abortions.

“We are drawing down federal money. We do that in more that one program,” she said, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Programs, which similarly ban abortion. “We understand that.”

UPDATE II: The Department of Health and Human Services issued this further refutation yesterday:

Statement of HHS Spokeswoman Jenny Backus on the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan Policy

As is the case with FEHB plans currently, and with the Affordable Care Act and the President’s related Executive Order more generally, in Pennsylvania and in all other states abortions will not be covered in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.

Our policy is the same for both state and federally-run PCIP programs. We will reiterate this policy in guidance to those running the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan at both the state and federal levels. The contracts to operate the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan include a requirement to follow all federal laws and guidance.

3 Responses to “The latest abortion funding myth”

  1. dis says:

    page 14 says elective abortions wont be covered buts says other abortions will be funded so there

  2. Jonathan says:

    Just discovering this blog via today’s NPR story on this issue. I am a committed pro-choicer but believe, like you, that there are some areas of common ground to be explored. The one I favor most is increasing access to family planning services and information. Half of all abortions in the U.S. are among the 11% of women who don’t use contraception despite wanting to avoid/delay pregnancy (another way of saying that contraception is highly effective at doing what it’s supposed to do). That, and loads of other evidence, suggests that expanding access to family planning – especially for low-income women, who are over-represented in terms of both unwanted pregnancy and abortion – is a no-brainer if we want to reduce the level of abortion. One need look no further than countries like the Netherlands for evidence. Despite having one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, the Dutch have one of the lowest rates of abortion. And that’s due largely to near universal use of contraception (and to frank and honest sex education). Unfortunately, many who oppose abortion also staunchly oppose contraception. Do you see any reason for optimism that “common ground” voices can help overcome this opposition? I’m referring specifically to those who are opposed to abortion but support contraception (among other common ground strategies).

    Thanks for treating this subject with honesty, seriousness and a spirit of conciliation. Far too uncommon these days, especially in the blogosphere (on both sides!). I commend you.

  3. James Morgan says:

    Indeed, the cited statute provides only a single circumstance in which an abortion prior to 24 weeks is NOT permitted under the Pennsylvania statute: “No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion.”