- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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.

So we know the Hyde Amendment - and the Hyde Amendment isn’t the answer when the debate has been shifted from Medicaid to a federal health care program. If anything, the health care reform proposals under consideration are cleverly designed work-arounds designed to undermine the current abortion funding bans.

Some are arguing that the abortion-friendly Capps Amendment is to health care reform as Hyde was to Medicaid. This argument is farcical. Here is an excerpt from the plain language of the Capps Amendment: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing … ABORTION SERVICES. …”

Just in case anyone had any lingering doubt about what the word “nothing” meant, another amendment was offered by pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan that was straightforward and unambiguous about barring abortion funding for “any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion” except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Once again, the pro-life amendment failed.

The abortion lobby’s attempt to control the health care debate continued with what it claimed was a conciliatory effort: Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’ America’s Health Future Act. Although its advocates claim it would bar federal subsidies for abortion, it in fact provides $6 billion for the establishment of health insurance cooperatives that would be permitted to cover abortion. If the Hyde Amendment - which is not permanent, but has to be renewed annually by Congress - is ever eliminated, the Baucus bill would mandate coverage for all abortions.

In fact, in a cynical twist, the Baucus bill actually would allow refundable, advanceable tax credits and cost-sharing credits to be applied to plans that pay for abortion - provided an accounting gimmick is employed to label the funds used to pay for abortion as private premium dollars.

To achieve this accounting requirement, plans that cover abortion would collect a mandatory abortion surcharge from each premium payer as a part of each subsidized premium payment. In other words, taxpayers would be funding the plans’ administration, which then would collect premium money used for abortions.

And that little trip through the looking glass into a Capitol Hill “compromise” leads us back to the political realities. Health care “reform” proponents are incapable of summoning the votes for an abortion exclusion. They simply cannot vote against the powerful abortion lobby. But without an explicit exclusion of abortion funding, the courts will define abortion as “mandatory” health care and impose federal funding in any kind of federal system, whether a “public” system or a subsidized “private” system. Pro-life Americans understand full well that arguments to the contrary play us for fools.

It’s a showdown of epic proportions. And, with more than 70 percent of the American people opposed to public funding of abortion, this is bad ground for the abortion lobby, and the president, who promised Planned Parenthood abortion would be “at the center and the heart” of his health care reform.

Charmaine Yoest is president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Life Action, the legislative action arm of Americans United for Life, the oldest national pro-life organization.

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