By Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM
USCCB / Media Relations
It's time to clear the air in the current debate over whether proposed health care legislation covers abortion. What's the truth?
Number one issue: Whether the Hyde Amendment applies now.
The Hyde Amendment has been federal policy since 1976. It states that money from the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill cannot be used for most abortions or for health coverage that includes them. The catch with the proposed health care reform bills is that they will authorize and appropriate their own funds outside the bounds of this appropriations bill. Government money should not be used for abortion or abortion coverage. Hyde-like language needs to be written into the health care reform bills to preserve the longstanding government policy against supporting and facilitating abortions.
What needs to be done: Amend any health care reform bill to explicitly ban use of government money for health coverage that includes elective abortions.
Number two issue: Public Option and the Capps Amendment
Public Option: Language in some health care reform bills, known as the Capps Amendment after its congressional sponsor, explicitly allow the sponsor of each health plan to decide whether it will cover elective abortions. And some of these bills would create a government-run health plan (the "public option") to compete with private health plans nationwide. This means that the Health and Human Services Secretary, as the public option's sponsor, may mandate that it cover unlimited abortions, in direct contradiction to other federal programs. These abortions will be paid for entirely with federal funds. Purchasers will pay their premiums to the federal government, and the government will use these federal funds (along with a federal tax subsidy for those who qualify) to pay for abortions.
The Abortion Surcharge: To create the illusion that federal funds will not support abortion, the Capps amendment creates a distinct abortion surcharge, a fee of at least $1 a month that each purchaser of a plan must pay to cover all abortion procedures that are ineligible for federal funding in a given year under the annual Hyde amendment. (Federal funding of abortion for many years has been only for cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life.) To get around forcing citizens to fund elective abortions with tax dollars, the government will help make them pay for most abortions with their premium dollars. Those who object will be told they could have chosen another plan - even if no plan without elective abortions meets their family's budget and health needs.
Government Abortion Mandate: The Capps amendment states that each region of the country must have at least one plan with elective abortion coverage. This creates a federal mandate for some private plans to cover abortions that every federal program for decades has excluded; the government would promote unlimited abortions by proxy.
Inserting the language of the Hyde amendment into these bills would not prevent insurers from covering abortion in their non-federally-funded plans, or from selling abortion coverage as a supplemental policy funded by the private dollars of those who choose it. But no American would be forced to subsidize abortion against his or her will. The solution to problems rooted in the Capps Amendment and the public option is a matter of a few words, to bring this legislation into line with what every other federal health program already says.
What needs to be done: Amend health care reform bills so that no American would be forced to subsidize abortion against his or her will.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM is Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Follow Sister Walsh on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sisterwalsh.