While pro-life activists lamented that the recently passed federal health care reform act bypasses the three-decade-old Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion, new efforts at the state level are having success in blocking taxpayer funding for abortions.
Two state legislatures have already voted to disallow taxpayer subsidy of abortion in state insurance exchanges that become active in 2014 under provisions of the legislation signed by President Barack Obama March 23. On April 19, the Tennessee Legislature passed an opt-out bill, and the Arizona Legislature followed suit a day later. Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law April 24, while the Tennessee bill awaits signature by Gov. Phil Bredesen. Several other states, including Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana, are working on similar bills under the motto “abortion is not health care.”
Why are such measures necessary? Daniel McConchie, vice president of government affairs for Americans United for Life (AUL), a public-interest pro-life law organization, said that “accounting gimmicks” in the new federal law allow taxpayer dollars to subsidize abortions.
According to an AUL analysis, “Individuals whose income falls between 150 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level [will] receive tax credits to apply toward health insurance plans in the new exchanges. If one chooses a plan that covers abortion, his or her tax credit cannot be used to directly pay for abortions; however, the tax credit subsidizes the insurance plan which covers abortions.”
Under a Senate compromise to prevent a filibuster on the health reform bill, a provision was accepted that allows states to opt out of allowing insurance plans that cover abortion into the states’ exchanges. AUL has come up with model legislation that helps states take advantage of this provision. (A copy of that model is available at www.aul.org.)
Chuck Donovan, senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, said many states haven’t dealt with abortion funding for years, but are being forced to now by the new health care reform law.
Right now, 33 states limit public funding for abortions, but Donovan said even those states will have to revisit the issue because of the new creation of federal insurance exchanges.
“States that want to stay as far away as possible from abortion need to do this opt-out,” Donovan told Our Sunday Visitor. He noted that there is time to work on the issue; the insurance exchanges don’t go into effect until 2014.
AUL’s McConchie reported that in states where legislative sessions have ended, opt-out action will have to wait for new legislative sessions. Among state legislatures that still are in session, however, opt-out bills are active in Missouri, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi, he said.
Making pro-life law
Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said he expects the opt-out bill in his state to become law this year. It already has passed both chambers and is awaiting House acceptance of Senate amendments. Lauinger told OSV that Gov. Brad Henry already has signed three pro-life bills this year (see sidebar).
In Missouri, the opt-out is part of a larger pro-life bill, said Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life. That bill passed the Senate April 22 and now goes to the House for consideration. Fichter said that in addition to the opt-out of abortion coverage in federal insurance exchanges, the bill provides that a woman be given the chance to see an ultrasound of her baby and receive information about her baby’s development 24 hours before an abortion is performed.
“For us to get that bill out of the Senate was wonderful,” Fichter told OSV.
Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, also was excited to report that his state’s opt-out bill passed the House on April 22 on a vote of 76-13. Given Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pro-life stance, Clapper told OSV he is optimistic that Jindal will sign the bill once it is passed by the Senate in the current session.
Big political issue
Michigan Right to Life faces a bigger challenge from its governor, Jennifer Granholm, who has a record of vetoing pro-life legislation, including two bans on partial-birth abortion, said Ed Rivet, legislative director for Michigan Right to Life. Nevertheless, an opt-out bill was scheduled to be introduced in both Michigan chambers April 27.
It is difficult to get momentum in a legislature when a governor’s veto looms over pro-life bills, Rivet said, but Granholm has only seven months left in office because of term limits. Thus a big priority of Michigan pro-lifers is to work for election of a pro-life governor who will sign pro-life legislation.
“I hope pro-life residents realize their vote does work,” Rivet said.
Indeed, political analysts say that these state-level actions will make abortion a big issue in November’s state elections for governor and state legislature.
And one of the side benefits of this state-level interest, the Heritage Foundation’s Donovan said, is that when state lawmakers have to go on record on the abortion issue, voters will have a better idea how those legislators would vote if they run someday for national office.
Ann Carey writes from Indiana.
Pending In states (sidebar)
Louisiana: Bills that would provide license actions on abortion clinics, exclude certain abortion practices from malpractice coverage, and offer an ultrasound before an abortion.
Michigan: Bills on conscience protection, embryo research and abortion reporting.
Oklahoma: Awaiting governor’s signature are bills to offer an ultrasound and information before an abortion; to disallow “wrongful-life” lawsuits when a baby is born with disabilities; and to ensure a woman’s voluntary consent to abortion. There’s also a bill providing for complete abortion reporting, including reason for abortions and any complications.
Ohio: Bills to prohibit human cloning and to reform the process of judicial bypass under the parental consent law.
Minnesota: Bills include a human cloning ban and increased funding for positive alternatives to abortion. A ban on coerced abortions failed 31-30 in the Senate, and a ban on taxpayer funding of abortion failed in the House on a 67-67 tie.
Massachusetts: Bills on informed consent and requiring second- and third-trimester abortions to be done in a hospital.
Georgia: A bill to prohibit abortion coercion and prohibit abortion based on the unborn child’s gender or race, with a vote expected by the end of April.
Kansas: A bill restricting late-term abortions and allowing a woman’s family to sue abortion providers without the woman’s consent passed the legislature March 31, but was vetoed by Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson April 15
Nebraska: On April 13 the legislature passed, and Gov. Dave Heineman signed, two pro-life bills: the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks gestation; and a bill allowing women to file lawsuits against abortionists for psychological harm done by a coerced or unsafe abortion. Both laws are expected to be challenged in court.life issues