For almost 35 years, the law of the land has been an explicit prohibition against federal taxpayer dollars being used to pay for elective abortions, known as the Hyde amendment, after the late great Illinois congressman. This is a policy supported by the majority of the American people.
In fact, this hard-fought explicit ban was included in the health care bill that passed the House last year. Regrettably, the Senate did not follow suit and instead passed a bill that would allow hard-earned taxpayer dollars to pay for elective abortion. That is a simple fact. Unfortunately, in a mad rush to secure enough votes, leading House Democrats now intend to take up the Senate-passed bill, arguing that the Senate language prohibits federal funding of abortion. Besides that fact that this simply not true, it also demonstrates the lengths the president and his allies will take to pass this bill against the will of the American people.
Just this week, Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement saying, “Notwithstanding the denials and explanations of its supporters, and unlike the bill approved by the House of Representatives in November, the Senate bill deliberately excludes the language of the Hyde amendment. It expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures.”
First, the Senate bill allows elective abortions to be offered through the newly-created individual state health insurance exchanges and multi-state health plans administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and through federally-subsidized plans in already-existing community health centers.
Second, there is nothing in this legislation that requires any of these programs to live up to both the spirit and letter of the Hyde amendment that Congress has included each year in spending bills that fund the government. This not only prevents federal funding of elective abortions, but also erects an iron-clad firewall against any private money for abortion being mixed with any federal or state health program receiving federal dollars. This applies, for example, to Medicaid, a health program for the economically disadvantaged that is funded by both federal and state governments. If any resources are used for elective abortions that money must be kept completely separate from Medicaid. This is sound policy that must be maintained.
Regrettably, the Senate-passed bill doesn’t include this firewall. Anyone who doesn’t earn enough money would qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay for their health plan in the state exchanges, including plans offering elective abortion coverage. Some argue that under the Senate-passed bill, federal funding would be “segregated” so no federal money would pay for abortions. But this is a violation of the Hyde amendment, which also prevents the federal funding of insurance that covers elective abortion.
Furthermore, it is entirely possible that there would only be one health plan in any given state that does not include elective abortion. And even if you are opposed, you may well be railroaded into choosing a plan that covers it, because you might be looking for the best plan to treat a sick child or your own health condition.
What’s more, passing a new state law is the only way an individual state could truly ensure that elective abortions are not included in the plans offered through a state insurance exchange. That would be easier in some states than in others, but that’s unfair to those who are morally opposed to federal funding of abortion and happen to live in states where passing such a law would be extremely difficult.
Lastly, under this proposal, community health centers would receive a dedicated stream of money outside the annual congressional process to fund the government which is where the Hyde prohibition is maintained. So that means that for the first time federal money could be used to fund abortion at a community health center.
Those are the facts, and anyone who thinks the Senate abortion language is strong enough should think again. That is because, regardless of one’s position on this controversial issue, it is entirely reasonable to expect that a person who is fundamentally and morally opposed to abortion should not have to sanction its use with their hard-earned tax payer dollars.
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Republican Orrin Hatch represents Utah in the United States Senate.