The Blog

Waxman Strong-arms Vote to Allow Abortion Coverage in Public Plan

12:35 PM, Jul 31, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Last night, the House Energy and Commerce Committee narrowly passed the Stupak-Pitts amendment to prevent the bill from mandating that private insurance plans cover abortions, but when Chairman Henry Waxman brought the amendment up for reconsideration, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee flipped his vote to 'no', defeating the Stupak-Pitts amendment 30 to 29. "I misunderstood it the first time," Gordon said of his flip-flop, according to The Hill. Gordon and Zack Space of Ohio were the only Blue Dogs on the committee to vote against the amendment to ban mandates for abortion.

Instead of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the committee passed an amendment that is being billed by some Democrats as a "common ground" measure on abortion. The amendment--sponsored by Lois Capps (D-Calif.), whose National Right to Life Committee vote-scorecard is 0 for 74--would allow the "public option" to provide coverage for elective abortions and would allow federally subsidized private plans to provide abortion coverage as well. How exactly could this be construed as "common ground"? Congress isn't requiring the public option to cover abortion--merely allowing it. And through some nifty bookkeeping, abortions will supposedly be paid for out of private funds rather than tax dollars.

Because money is fungible, it's difficult to say that tax dollars wouldn't fund abortions through this plan. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says, "Federal subsidies would also flow to private plans that cover elective abortions, under meaningless bookkeeping schemes -- and the amendment actually creates a federal mandate that there must be at least one private abortion plan in each premium rating areas of the health insurance exchange." Say that an individual contributes $1,000 annually to purchase a health-care plan, and the government contributes $5,000. The federal subsidies are not supposed to pay directly for abortions services, but the taxpayer-subsidized plan would allow a person to purchase an abortion for, say, $50 rather than $500.

"The status quo is that nobody has federally subsidized health care that includes abortion," says Johnson. That is true not only for Medicaid recipients, but federal employees as well.

Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) believes the Capps amendment is a "phony compromise", according to his press secretary. Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said in a statement that "The amendment would still allow for taxpayer funding to pay for plans that cover abortion. This is a fig leaf, designed to lure votes from Members who want cover on the issue. The American people will not be fooled. We want an explicit exclusion in the bill to prevent any taxpayer funding from paying for abortions. Anything else is wrong, and contrary to overwhelming popular opinion."

Last week, Stupak said that there were a "minimum of 39 Democrats"--members who recently voted against public funding of abortion in Washington, D.C.--who would vote against a health-care bill that did not exclude coverage for elective abortions. Neither Zack Space nor Bart Gordon, the Blue Dogs who sided with Waxman, were among the 39 Democrats who voted against taxpayer funding of abortion in D.C. If those 39 Democrats joined all Republicans, they would have enough votes to defeat the bill.