Abortion Fight Remains Fierce in Health Care Debate

Republicans and some staunch pro-life Democrats in Congress are threatening to derail current health care reform efforts over the issue of abortion funding as Congress heads toward a final showdown on the contentious legislation.

But amid the uproar, some outside experts are insisting that there is no government funding of abortion in the Senate bill.

Timothy Jost, co-author of the casebook Health Law, which is widely used throughout the United States in teaching health law at law schools, insists that no tax dollars can go toward funding of abortions under the Senate bill.

In his analysis, released Friday, of how the Senate and House bills affect abortion funding, Jost asserts that the two bills are "essentially equivalent" when it comes to their abortion provisions. Both bills prohibit federal funding of abortions, he states.

Jost, who holds the Robert L. Willett Family Professorship of Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va., says the Senate bill – like the House version – prohibits the use of premium affordability tax credits or cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortions that are not covered by Medicaid.

It also leaves federal funding for other programs – such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Federally Qualified Community Health Centers – subject to the Hyde amendment.

The Hyde amendment, which has prevented the use of any federal funds for abortion coverage since 1976, bans federal funding for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or danger to the physical health of the mother.

Perhaps the most interesting part in Jost's study is the law professor's analysis of the Senate bill's Community Health Center Fund. Pro-life groups have asserted that the $7 billion that the Senate appropriates for community health centers between 2011 and 2015 can be used toward abortion.

Though these centers currently do not offer abortion services, pro-life groups argue they could in the future and would do so with government money.

But Jost notes how the Senate has ordered the funds for community health centers to be transferred to Health and Human Services accounts.

"Since all other HHS funding, including expenditures from trust funds, is subject to the Hyde Amendment, these funds cannot be used to pay for abortions," Jost asserts.

The National Association of Community Health Centers also confirmed this position in a released statement last week. The association said it does not currently provide abortions to any of its patients and is not aware of any centers that have ever done so.

"Health canters do not plan to, nor are they seeking to, become providers of abortions," the statement declared. "On the contrary, last year health centers provided prenatal, perinatal, and post-natal/post-partum care to 1 of every 8 children born in the U.S."

 The association also said that since the new Community Health Center Fund and its current annual appropriations funding go through the HHS, it expects its centers to be subjected to the Hyde amendment.

But pro-life groups and lawmakers argue that if the Senate version is truly similar to the House version – in that no federal funding will go to abortion – then senators should have no problem adding language to the Senate bill that is similar to the House's Stupak-Pitts amendment, which clearly bans tax dollars from paying for abortions.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) last week told media outlets that he has gathered about a dozen Democratic lawmakers who are willing to vote against President Obama's health care plan if it continues to retain the Senate's language on abortion.

"We're not gonna vote for this bill with that kind of language in there," Stupak said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I want to see health care, but we're not gonna bypass some principles and belief that we feel strongly about," he said.

A Gallup Poll released on Monday shows that there is greater polarization on the abortion issue based on political affiliation. Republicans have grown more conservative on abortion since 1975 and Democrats more liberal.

Though most Republicans and Democrats stay in the middle and say they prefer abortion to be legal under some circumstances, a significantly higher percentage of Republicans say they favor the procedure to be illegal in all circumstances than in 1975. Similarly, an increased percentage of Democrats moved to the other extreme and said they favor abortion to be legal under any circumstances.

"Whereas Republicans and Democrats had similar outlooks on abortion in the 1970s and 1980s, that started changing in 1990; and by 2009, more Republicans believed abortion should be illegal than broadly legal (by a 21-point margin), while the reverse was true among Democrats (by 19 points)," noted the Gallup Poll report.

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