The 2009-2010 Congress: President Obama’s Health Care Legislation [ObamaCare]
Early in the 2009-2010 Congress, newly elected President Barack Obama declared health care restructuring legislation to be a top priority. While campaigning for president, Obama had vowed that his “health care reform” legislation would require universal coverage of abortion, and the initial Democrat-sponsored health care bills would have fulfilled that pledge with provisions that would have effectively mandated elective abortion coverage in nearly all health insurance plans, including a giant “public plan” to be run directly by the federal government.
Thanks to the tenacious resistance by NRLC and other pro-life forces, the final bill that Obama signed on March 23 forced Democratic leaders to abandon some of the most expansive pro-abortion provisions that were part of the original legislation. The final law does not mandate that all private health plans cover abortions, and it allows individual state legislatures to enact laws (now referred to as “opt-out laws”) to keep abortion coverage out of health plans sold through the government-administered “exchanges” that the federal law requires.
However, the legislation creates a new program under which scores of millions of Americans will receive subsidies from the federal Treasury to purchase health plans, including health plans that cover all abortions—a sharp break from decades of federal policy.
If a plan chooses to cover abortion, it will be required to bill each subscriber separately for the abortion coverage, whether or not the subscriber wants such coverage. Even if a citizen lives in a state in which the legislature has enacted legislation to specifically prohibit abortion coverage from being sold on that state’s exchange, that citizen cannot prevent his federal taxes from subsidizing the abortion-covering health plans in other states that do not pass such laws.
The health care law also creates or expands a number of health programs without attaching satisfactory pro-life language, opening the door to future expansions of abortion through federal subsidies, and through administrative regulations or court decisions, unless a future Congress passes new legislation to prevent these things.
A controversy that erupted in July 2010 provided further evidence that the new health care law allows abortion funding. NRLC discovered that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had approved proposals to cover abortions that had been submitted by some states under one of the new federal programs created by the health care law, known as the “Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan” or “high-risk pool program.” Under the ensuing glare of national media attention, the Obama Administration abruptly acted to exclude abortion coverage from that single program—while insisting that this action would not be a precedent for other programs. NRLC, the ACLU, and the White House all agreed that there was nothing in the health care law to prevent abortion coverage under the high-risk program.
When President Obama’s health care legislation was under consideration in the Senate in 2009, NRLC warned that a provision dealing with “preventive health services” would empower the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate coverage of any medical service, including abortion, merely by adding the service to an expandable list. Predictably, the Administration issued a decree in August, 2011, covering all FDA-approved birth control methods – a mandate that, unless overturned, will produce an irreconcilable conflict between conscience and the coercive force of government for many employers. The Administration’s “birth-control mandate” has been strongly characterized as an attack on fundamental religious liberties by the U.S. Catholic bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and the leaders of many other religious bodies.
The Administration subsequently offered bogus “accommodations” and as a result more than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate. Nonetheless, in the October 11 vice presidential debate, Joe Biden insisted the mandate did not infringe on religious freedom. The next day the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) responded sharply with a statement headlined, “USCCB responds to inaccurate statement of fact on HHS Mandate made during vice presidential debate.”
But this is not a debate only about the specific parameters of the birth-control mandate. Exactly the same statutory authority could be used by the Administration — as early as next year — to mandate that many health plans pay for elective abortion on demand.
(NRLC documented some of the major abortion-expansive provisions of the Obamacare law, and how they departed from decades of federal policy on abortion, in testimony presented to a House subcommittee in February 2011, available here: http://www.nrlc.org/AHC/ProtectLifeActDouglasJohnsonTestimony.pdf)