Bart Stupak: Health Reform Amendment Upholds Current Abortion Funding Law

It would affirm a ban on public funding that has been on the books since 1977.

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Bart Stupak is a Democratic member of the House from Michigan's First Congressional District.

Since the House of Representatives passed historic healthcare reform legislation, one topic has dominated the conversation: federal funding for abortion. In many cases, the positive reforms in H.R. 3962, the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, have been overshadowed by misinformation about the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion. I would like to set the record straight: Our amendment maintains current law.

The ban on public funding for abortion is a long-standing federal policy known as the Hyde amendment. It has been in place since 1977, and its legality has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. The law prohibits the U.S. government from funding abortion in any federal health program, including Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Our amendment simply applies that law to the healthcare reform bill.

Under our amendment, only the public health insurance option and private plans receiving federal subsidies are prohibited from covering abortion services. It does not prevent private plans within the newly created health insurance exchange from offering separate plans with abortion services, and it does not prohibit individuals who are purchasing plans on the exchange with their own money from choosing insurance that offers abortion services. Our amendment specifically states that even those who choose the public option or receive federal subsidies can purchase a supplemental policy with private money to cover abortion services.

Despite claims that our amendment overreaches current law, not one person has been able to show where actual language in our amendment is different from the Hyde language. In fact, the only difference is that it protects the current ability of individuals to obtain abortion services, saying "nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting any nonfederal entity (including an individual or a state or local government) from purchasing separate supplemental coverage for abortions" and "nothing in this section shall restrict any nonfederal [health plan] offering entity from offering separate supplemental coverage for abortions." Individuals may purchase abortion coverage using private funds in the exchange, and private insurance companies may offer plans that cover abortion in the exchange.

The main alternative, Rep. Lois Capps's proposal, would have set a new precedent for abortion funding, essentially overturning Hyde language, by (1) mandating at least one plan in the exchange provide abortion coverage, (2) requiring a minimum $1 monthly charge for every enrollee in the public option that would go toward paying for abortion, and (3) allowing individuals receiving federal affordability credits to purchase health insurance plans that cover abortion.

Abortion supporters continue to argue that the Capps amendment was a sufficient "compromise" in line with Hyde language. Yet this "compromise" was struck without the agreement of pro-life groups. It is hardly a good-faith compromise when you circumvent the very group whose concerns you are attempting to address. And the Hyde language has never allowed private and public funds to be segregated in the way that the Capps amendment proposed. The Federal Employees Health Benefit Program is a good example. Federal employees pay a portion of their premium each month, and the federal government pays the balance. Current Hyde language does not allow federal employees to apply their premium contributions to abortion services. Because the policies are partially paid for by the taxpayers, no coverage of abortion services is permitted.

Medicaid is another example. In the 17 states where abortion coverage is provided under Medicaid, the states themselves provide funds completely separate from their federal matching dollars for those services—just as individuals on the exchange could do under the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts amendment. Hyde language sets a very clear precedent that federal funds and private funds paying for the same policy cannot be segregated to provide abortion services. My amendment keeps current policy.