Does Healthcare Bill Really Ban Federal Funding For Abortion?

There's a debate on the Hill over whether the healthcare bill would subsidize abortion.

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The Capitol Hill debate over abortion in the healthcare bill has kicked up a lot of confusion yesterday and today. Conservative antiabortion forces say the bill mandates federally subsidized abortion coverage. Democrats, including some abortion foes, say that's a mischaracterization.

Democrats claim an amendment to the healthcare bill adopted last night ensures that the tradition of denying federal funds for abortions—except in cases of rape or incest or if the pregnant woman's life is in danger—will continue. Republicans and traditional antiabortion advocates say that's bogus.

What's the reality?

The amendment, proposed by Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, prohibits the federal government from compelling private providers participating in the federal healthcare exchange to cover abortion. But it also bars the government from prohibiting those plans from offering such coverage. And it requires that at least one of the private plans participating in the exchange cover abortion—and at least one of the plans to not. Read the amendment here.

Democratic defenders of the Capps amendment say it applies the Hyde Amendment, which for more than three decades has prohibited Medicaid from funding abortions except in very limited circumstances, to the new government-controlled healthcare. Private healthcare providers are free to cover abortion, but not with federal funds. The public plan would cover abortion, but not with federal funds; a Capitol Hill aide tells me money for abortions would come from what participants pay into the public plan.

Antiabortion advocates say this purported segregation of private money, which could pay for abortions, from taxpayer money, which could not, is meaningless. The plan, they say, would effectively subsidize abortions with government money. Antiabortion activists note that the Hyde Amendment goes further than banning federal funds for abortion by actually barring any federal healthcare plan—from Medicaid to the private plans available to federal employees—from offering abortion coverage at all.

What do you think? Is it OK for the government to include abortion coverage in the public healthcare option and in federally subsidized plans, as long as federal funds aren't used? Or should the government prohibit the public option and the private, subsidized plans, from offering abortion at all?

Or perhaps you think the government should fund abortions as part of reproductive health. Interested in your comments on this thorny debate.

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