Monday, January 25, 2010

Gary Palmer: Abortion still an issue in health care reform

  President Obama and the Democrat leadership in Congress have created a major political dilemma for themselves in their efforts to nationalize our health care system. The dilemma they face is over abortion.

  Obama made some specific promises to Planned Parenthood and others in the abortion industry and to pro-abortion interest groups. Basically, they promised to deliver more children to their clinics by removing virtually all restrictions on abortions. In fact, in a speech to Planned Parenthood during the presidential campaign, Obama said, “The first thing I would do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).” He added, “On this fundamental issue I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield.”

  Thankfully, Obama has not fulfilled his promise and there has been little pressure from the abortion industry and their lobbyists. Until now, the abortion industry has kept relatively quiet in anticipation that the health care reform bill would include coverage for abortions as part of the bill’s insurance mandate. Such coverage would more or less guarantee a substantial increase in profits for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

  At one-half billion dollars a year, abortion is big business. Based on the latest abortion statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, in 2005 there were 1,210,000 abortions nationwide at an average cost of $413. According to their 2006-07 annual report, Planned Parenthood’s abortion revenue was over $112 million. If health care reform passes that includes a mandate to provide insurance coverage for abortions, it could provide a windfall in profits for Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry.

  The dilemma facing Obama and the Democrats is that the public is adamantly opposed to including coverage for abortions in the health care bill. A recent national Quinnipiac University poll found that 72 percent of voters are opposed to public funding for abortion in the health care reform bill. Other recent polls show solid, consistent opposition.

  In addition, sincere pro-life Democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) refused to support the House version of the health care reform bill until insurance coverage for abortion was removed from the bill. They rallied behind the Stupak Amendment that the House adopted for their version of the bill, but that is not part of the Senate version of the bill. While some believe Obama and the Democrat leadership are willing to give up abortion coverage to get their health care reform bill passed, that is not totally certain.

  According to Americans United for Life, in the Senate-passed bill insurance plans in the government-run insurance exchange that receive federal funds “… are not prohibited from covering abortions.” Moreover, the Senate version of the bill includes a provision added by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) that allows a federal administrative agency to require private insurance companies to provide coverage for “preventive care.” If a federal agency categorized abortion as “preventive care,” private insurance plans would be required to include coverage for abortion.

  Typically, when the House and Senate pass bills that are different, the differences are worked out in a conference committee that includes members from both parties. Because of staunch Republican opposition to both the House and the Senate bills, no Republicans are included in the conference committee. In fact, the Democrats have conducted secret meetings in direct violation of an Obama campaign promise that he would allow full transparency on health care reform legislation.

  Public sentiment continues to build against the health care reform bill and especially against including any coverage for abortions. This has created an even greater political liability for Democrats in the 2010 election as well as the risk of losing the votes of sincere pro-life Democrat members of Congress who will not vote for passage because of this issue.

  In the end, Obama and the Democrat leadership may have to abandon their efforts to include coverage for abortions in order to pass the bill, particularly since polls show that the percentage of liberal Democrats who say abortion is a critical issue for them has dropped from 34 percent to only eight percent. Consequently, it appears that dropping coverage for abortion would not have major consequences for them in the 2010 elections, even among their liberal base.

  This raises a question: If the health care reform legislation is really about providing accessible and affordable health care for all Americans, why risk defeat of the bill over abortion, especially when less than ten percent of their liberal base considers it a critical issue?

  If abortion coverage is left out of the health care reform bill or the bill is defeated, Obama and his liberal allies in Congress will have to find another way to please their pro-abortion base. You can be sure that they will be pressured to fulfill their pledge to pass the Freedom of Choice Act. Planned Parenthood and others in the abortion industry that stand to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from abortions will make sure of it.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.  

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