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The House and Senate Abortion Provisions

As I understand it—and this is a serious qualification, because I’m not sure I do—the principal difference between the treatment of abortion in the House and Senate healthcare bills is this: the House Bill would prohibit government funding of health insurance policies that cover abortion, while the Senate Bill would allow the coverage but require anyone who wants the coverage as part of a government-subsidized policy to make separate premium payments for the basic policy and for the abortion coverage. It would be a terrible thing for the government to fund abortions, which argues decisively for the House approach.

But I think it’s worth speculating about the likely effect of the Senate approach, should it become part of the final legislation.  In theory, the Senate approach would serve as a referendum on Americans’ views on abortion. Those who hold to the old Mario Cuomo position of claiming to be pro-life personally but in favor of keeping abortion legal would presumably decline the coverage (and the politicians among them might well get asked about this in political debates). Those who are adamantly pro-choice might opt for the coverage even if it is highly unlikely they would ever have an abortion. My guess is that coverage decisions would show that pro-choice enthusiasm is less widespread than its advocates like to suggest.
 
But unless it’s prohibited, many employers, under relentless pressure from pro choice groups, might make it very easy to choose the abortion coverage. They might well do all the processing for their employees, so that the employee never has to sign the separate check that adds abortion to a government-subsidized health insurance policy.

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Comments ( 2 )

This whole debate would be hilarious if it were not so serious. On the one side, we have pro-choice advocates trying to find away to fit abortion coverage within the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment. To do so, they advocate a system whereby the government subsidies would go to pay for insurance coverage for all procedures that do not include abortion and the contributions would go to pay for all coverage, including abortion. This would mean that only money from the insured would go to pay for abortion coverage.

On the other side, pro-lifers, including prominently the Catholic Bishops, argue that this is a mere accounting gimmick amounting to money laundering. Essentially they argue that money is fungible and that it does not matter whose dollars actually pay for the abortion coverage, if you subsidize coverage, you will be subsidizing coverage for abortion by freeing up money to pay for abortion coverage. I agree completely that the government would be funding abortions. But we engage in this sort of logic all of the time wrt funding decisions.

In fcat, the Catholic church, along with any other religious institution that takes government money, engages in just this sort of money laundering every time it takes money from the government. The Government is not permitted, by the First Amendment, to fund religion. Yet, churches and church-related organizations take money every day to help support things such as food banks and adoption agencies. By taking this money, the church will not have to spend its own money on these activities and can direct more of its money to religious activities. Therefore, the government money is freeing up church money to fund religious activities. Since all money is fungible, under the Church's argument, the government would be funding religious activities.

I would have less of a problem with the Bishop's argument if they were no hypocritical.

Matt, I think this is a really good point. I've thought about the comparison too. My sense is that the place where the analogy to religion is most apt is with evangelism-- ie, when evangelistic Christian organizations take gov't money and say they won't use it for evangelism, only for secular services and that there's therefore no First Amendment problem. I think the fungibility of the money is a problem here, as well as with the Senate abortion compromise.