A $160 million grant to Pennsylvania under the Obama administration's new health care law could provide funding for elective abortions, and at least one other state clearly intends to use requested money for such procedures, a leading pro-life group said Wednesday.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, said the group - which obtained a copy of Pennsylvania's request to the Department of Health and Human Services - also has one from New Mexico that is "explicit" in its coverage of elective abortion.
"This is not just a Pennsylvania problem," he said. "This is a federal problem in effect in every state."
Pennsylvania and federal officials insist the money would cover only nonelective, or necessary, abortions.
Both sides, however, essentially have staked their argument on the meaning of a "necessary" abortion and a passage in the roughly 60-page proposal from the program, which provides insurance to residents previously denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Shelly Bain, policy director in Pennsylvania's insurance department, said the program will pay only for abortions according to state statutes and the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which includes those performed as a result of rape and incest or when a pregnant woman's life is in danger.
National Right to Life Committee and Family Research Council officials say the Pennsylvania statutes that define which abortions can be covered are not specific enough and cite the passage "No abortion shall be performed except by a physician ... [who] determines that, in his best clinical judgment,the abortion is necessary ...."
Mr. Johnson said such concerns would have been resolved under the amendment proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, but rejected by party leaders in Congress.
"They succeeded in getting a law that gives them this discretion," he said.
The attack also has drawn support from Republicans lawmakers, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, whose criticism focused on the executive order that bans taxpayer-funded abortion and accompanied the president's multi-billion-dollar Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"That the ... program in Pennsylvania will use federal, taxpayer dollars is unconscionable," the Ohio Republican told Lifenews.com.
Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, also opposes the program.
By late afternoon, HHS had issued its own response to the pro-life attack.
"In Pennsylvania and in all other states, abortions will not be covered in the ... plan except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered," said agency spokeswoman Jenny Backus. "Our policy is the same for both state- and federally run [pre-existing condition insurance] programs. ...The contracts to operate the [programs] include a requirement to follow all federal laws and guidance."
The attempts to clarify how the money will be used and having Pennsylvania officials saying they have yet to get a federal contract or money did nothing to change Mr. Johnson's mind.
"If they want to change the proposal to get it approved, then fine," he said. "We're only reacting to what they submitted. ... I don't see this as a problem confined to Pennsylvania."
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