Is abortion health care, or is it not?

The health care debate, the greatest challenge of the Obama presidency, has abortion at its epicenter, and no one realizes this more than the White House. In recent weeks, President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have all insisted that the health care proposals under consideration would not cover abortion.

Nevertheless, that’s not the reality we face on the Hill. Recently, we had a meeting with senior White House officials to focus on our serious opposition to the abortion mandate in health care reform. They reiterated the president’s statement from his address before Congress and were noncommittal about specific language that would address the current concerns of pro-life advocates.

The truth is that the health care packages under consideration do include abortion funding. Without a specific statutory amendment that includes an explicit ban on federal funding and coverage, we face health care reform that includes abortion.

Lost in the debate over whether or not abortion is “in there” - whether or not you can flip to a certain page and point to a particular clause related to abortion funding - is an understanding among political elites that this is a watershed battle over definition. It’s existential, if you will, and comes down to a very straightforward question: Is abortion health care, or is it not?

An inadvertent answer from the abortion advocates’ side emerged during the debate over H.R. 3200 in the House Education and Labor Committee on July 22 after Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, offered an amendment to exclude abortion funding from health care reform. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, clearly miffed, responded:

“[Abortion] is a legal medical practice and by even having to talk about it … we’re not talking about having your tonsils out. …”

No, indeed we are not. As a matter of public policy, we still have the ability to differentiate between an abortion and a tonsillectomy. But this is precisely the debate we confront.

Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby define abortion as health care, as being morally equivalent to a tonsillectomy, and health care reform is their vehicle for imposing that view definitively with the full force of the federal government.

For the record, the Souder amendment to bar federal funding of abortion failed, as have all similar attempts to provide a clear and unequivocal abortion exclusion.

This is literally a defining moment for the pro-life movement. On Planned Parenthood’s Web site, the very first category under Health on the navigation bar is Abortion.

This is its agenda - to win by definition. If the abortion lobby succeeds at equating abortion with health care at the federal level, it will have shifted the entire debate. It has been marking this turf for years with poll-tested messaging, describing abortion as “reproductive health.”

Now it is reaching for its ultimate objective of removing the “reproductive” adjective and making it mandatory health care, plain and simple.

And while national attention is focused on congressionally mandated funding streams, there has been no coverage of the battleground in the courts. The funding streams become largely irrelevant once Planned Parenthood wins the definitional question.

The Americans United for Life legal team has documented cases in seven circuit courts and several federal district courts where the “mandatory categories of care” under Medicaid have been defined to include abortion. So the next move for abortion advocates is clear: Expand the definition of abortion as a mandatory category of care to include our entire health care system. By comparison, funding questions are puny. The word “mandatory” says it all.

The abortion lobby responds disingenuously that the Hyde Amendment is the answer. Americans United for Life was the organization that defended the Hyde Amendment in front of the Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae, winning that case and establishing that there is not a constitutional right to federally funded abortion.

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