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AP Botches Abortion Statistic

11:29 AM, Jul 22, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The AP's Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports "nearly 90 percent of employer-based private insurance plans routinely cover abortion."

That is not true.

As the New York Times reported the other day, Kathleen Sebelius testified in April: "Most private plans do not cover abortion services except in limited instances." And Congressional Quarterly reported on July 15:

Most people with employer-sponsored insurance also must pay for abortions out of their own pocket. ‘Most insurers offer plans that include this coverage, but most employers choose not to offer it as part of their benefits package,' said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry's trade association.

The AP likely sourced its claim that 90% of employer-based insurance plans cover abortions to a very flawed Alan Guttmacher Institute study. The National Right to Life Committee's Douglas Johnson explains in an email why the AGI study is dubious:

We have now looked at the AGI paper that provided the basis for the claim that "nearly 90% of insurers cover abortion procedures." This report was based on voluntary responses sent to AGI by insurers who were selected by AGI to be surveyed by complicated criteria described in the report. Moreover, the report itself said that "some of the insurers reporting that abortion was covered narrowly interpreted this to mean when a pregnancy threatens a woman's health." Clearly, then, AGI arrived at the 87% figure by counting any respondent in its sample that covered abortion even to save the life of the mother. Thus, this report is essentially useless in estimating the extent of private insurance coverage of elective abortion.

If the NRA sends out a questionnaire, most pro-gun-control candidates simply won't respond. The same phenomenon surely occurred with health insurance companies that do not provide abortions not responding to the Guttmacher Institute, which was once formally connected to Planned Parenthood, and remains ideologically committed to legalized and taxpayer-subsidized abortion.

The real issue here isn't whether or not private plans cover abortions--it's whether or not American taxpayers should have to pay for abortions, something that is wildly unpopular and has been prohibited since 1976 by the Hyde amendment.

Pro-abortion advocates, however, have been spinning an argument that since most employer based plans cover abortions--which, in fact, they do not as noted above--then Obama's public plan and subsidized insurance plans should require abortion coverage as well. Time's Karen Tumulty wrote in a recent piece that resembled a Planned Parenthood press release that "many women" who would be rolled into plans with federal subsidies would have to "giv[e] up a benefit [for abortion] they now have under their private insurance policies."

Wait a second. I thought Obama told us that "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."

Apparently "public option" proponents are willing to concede that many people will lose their employer-based health insurance when faced with the prospect of losing free abortions.

Update: Ben Smith notes: 1) A different study claimed that 46% of employer-based plans covered abortions, 2) The Guttmacher Institute concedes that the number of plans providing coverage is somewhat less than 87%, and 3) Neither Sebelius nor America's Health Insurance Providers have yet backed up their assertions that most plans do not provide routine abortion coverage with studies.