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Read the Bill: Senate Plan Would Pay for Abortions at Community Health Centers

6:12 AM, Mar 19, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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If there are any wavering pro-life Democrats in this late hour who need to be persuaded about how awful the Senate health care bill is, they should read two memos that make it clear how the Senate bill would allow community health care centers to directly fund abortions with federal money. The first memo (download it here) is by the pro-life secretariat at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization that would support the health care plan if the bill didn't fund abortions with tax dollars. The other memo is by the National Right to Life Committee.

Read the Bill: Senate Plan Would Pay for Abortions at Community Health Centers

The memos thoroughly examine the actual legislative text of the Nelson and Stupak amendments. (Read the text of Stupak's amendment here and Nelson's amendment here.) Here are two irrefutable points that show that the bill would directly pay for abortions with federal funds:

1. Some of the most important words in Stupak's amendment to the House bill stipulate that "No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act" may be used to pay for elective abortions. These words are missing from Ben Nelson's amendment to the Senate bill. So even if you support the Senate bill's dubious bookkeeping scheme to segregate premium dollars from federal subsidies in order to pay for abortions, these regulations do not apply to the $11 billion slated for the health centers under Obamacare.

2. The courts have ruled that, unless prohibited by statute, public health care programs must fund abortions. Medicaid paid for 300,000 abortions per year following Roe v. Wade until the Hyde amendment, which bans funding for elective abortions through programs funded by the health and human services appropriations bill, became law in 1976. So community health centers could use taxpayer money to fund abortions.

The editors of Commonweal try to claim that the Hyde amendment would apply to the community health centers:

"since such money will in any case be channeled through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where the Hyde Amendment obtains, there is no good reason to suppose that it will be exempt from the amendment’s constraints. [...] the Hyde Amendment works only if it covers everything HHS spends."

But the Hyde amendment does not say that "none of the funds channeled through HHS" may pay for elective abortions; it says "none of the funds appropriated by this act" may pay for elective abortions. A Hyde-like amendment needs to be included in each different act authorizing public health programs, or the programs will end up paying for abortions, just as Indian Health Services did long after the Hyde amendment was on the books. 

Commonweal's editors also write: "It’s also worth mentioning that none of the existing health centers, which provide care to one in eight children born in the United States, has ever offered abortion services." They do not provide a source for this claim. The National Right to Life Committee points out there's good reason to doubt it. Community health centers aren't required to report if they perform abortions, and there are "reproductive rights" organizations that advise community health centers  on how to go about performing abortions and get around the law. Even if you believe health centers currently don't perform abortions, it's incredibly naive to believe that abortion doctors wouldn't try to secure a chunk of the $11 billion being thrown at the health centers.

It's fine for pro-lifers to continue to point out why Ben Nelson's amendment to the Senate bill is really nothing more than an "accounting procedure," as Barbara Boxer put it, that will do nothing to restrict coverage of abortions. If the Senate bill weren't funding abortions, why would the Senate bill allow states to "opt-out" of funding abortions?

Yet, the argument about segregation of funding has been hashed and rehashed since last July. The problem with "accounting procedures" is that they're complicated and confusing. On the other hand, the case that Obamacare would provide direct federal funding for abortions at community health centers is abundantly clear.

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