Ideologues go too farIt seems there are two obstacles to President Barack Obama’s desire for comprehensive health care reform: the so-called public option and an unexpected fight over abortion rights.
By: Bonnie Erbe, The Dickinson Press
It seems there are two obstacles to President Barack Obama’s desire for comprehensive health care reform: the so-called public option and an unexpected fight over abortion rights.
I’m no fan of the public option, so if it goes away, I won’t be teary-eyed. But I must admit I’m confounded by anti-abortion opponents’ overreach on the issue of private health care dollars to be used by women who have private insurance to buy plans that cover abortion.
The Hyde Amendment was one thing. First passed in 1976 and sponsored by its eponymous author, arch conservative (Rep.) Henry Hyde, it prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. Since its original passage some 33 years ago, there has been no effort by pro-abortion rights activists to overturn it. It’s almost as if they understood immediately that where public funds were involved, they were never going to regain the power to force anti-abortion taxpayers to subsidize something they fervently opposed.
We all fervently oppose at least one thing — in my case, hundreds of things — that our hard earned tax dollars go to support. But very few of us pack the wallop that’s necessary in Washington to prohibit those funds from being used in a way that offends us. I, for one, oppose public funds going into the coffers of church-run social service groups, every bit as fervently as religiously driven conservatives oppose use of their tax dollars for abortions. I oppose federal tax dollars going to fund abstinence-only education, which has been proven to be ineffective eight ways from Sunday.
They get their way, but I don’t get mine, and so it goes. But in each instance noted above, we’re talking about powerful lobbies controlling how tax dollars are doled out. Now anti-abortion advocates want to go further. They want to control how we women spend our private dollars to buy health insurance from private companies that provide it.
They were temporarily stopped in the U.S. Senate this week. It refused to approve Sen. Ben Nelson’s, D-Nev., version of the so-called Stupak amendment that was approved in the House version of health care reform. Stupak is nothing short of an outrageous and unconstitutional overreach.
Here’s how the Wall Street Journal this week described the Stupak amendment:
“Without the amendment, the Senate health bill would include abortion coverage in the new public plan and would allow women who receive government tax credits for insurance to enroll in a plan that covers the procedure. The tax credit would be segregated so none of it could go toward funding abortion. Antiabortion advocates say that’s too lenient and want to prevent any insurance plan that receives federal funding from covering the procedure, except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.”
Think about this for one moment, please. It’s one thing to bar the use of federal tax dollars for abortion. It’s quite another to forbid private health insurance companies from covering abortions in one or all of their plans if they want to compete for federal business. That would mean that women buying health insurance with private dollars from private insurance companies would suddenly have their right to participate in legal commerce invaded by anti-abortion ideologues. Is there any precedent for such a move in the history of American commerce — barring use of private dollars for a perfectly legal procedure?
Luckily the forces of sanity intervened in the Senate health care debate and fought back the Stupak/Nelson amendment. But the issue will be back on the table when House-Senate negotiators meet to hammer out differences between the two chambers’ versions of health reform.
I have an idea. If Democrats are forced to send Obama a health care reform package that includes the Stupak language, they should retaliate by refusing to approve the Hyde Amendment next year when it comes up for renewal. Even though it was first passed in 1976, it requires reauthorization every year by Congress as part of the Health and Human Services annual package. That fight would be worth buying tickets to watch.
— Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.