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The Abortion Distortion: Setting The Record -- and John Boehner -- Straight on the Capps Amendment

Abortion is a red herring. Most of the politicians and interest groups who protest abortion coverage in health care reform do not want reform to succeed at all.
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Adding to the rampant mythmaking that health care reform will result in a mandate for taxpayer-funded abortions, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday released a GOP Leader Alert with a tag line that reads "Despite Democrats' Claims, the 'Capps Compromise' was Just for Political Cover" and asserting that "the legislation [in the House of Representatives] would in fact allow abortions to be subsidized by taxpayer funds."

The only political cover being used here is by those who oppose health care reform.

The GOP Alert contains numerous distortions, using quotes that do not support the contentions made in the alert itself. For example, according to the alert:

The Associated Press has reported, for example, that "Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions" and FactCheck.Org has stated that the "House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans.

Note to Boehner: Neither of these quotations actually says that abortion coverage would be paid for with government money.

That's because under the Capps Amendment, it wouldn't.

In fact, a "federal plan" or a "federally-subsidized private plan" that covers abortion would be required, pursuant to the Capps Amendment, to use money from private premiums to pay for abortion care.

These facts notwithstanding, the alert concludes:

The bottom line? H.R. 3200 does not contain any limitation on federal funds authorized or appropriated in the bill from being used to pay for elective abortion or to subsidize the purchase of insurance coverage of elective abortion. (Emphasis in original.)

Oh, if only that were true. Abortion rights advocates could go home because their work would be done.

To reach this conclusion, Boehner cites Sections 115 and 122 of the bill, neither of which says anything about payment mechanisms. It is Sections 203 (SEGREGATION OF FUNDS) and 241(c) (PROHIBITION OF USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR ABORTION COVERAGE) that ensure no public money will be spent on abortion.

To make his assertions, Mr. Boehner conveniently skips over the portion of Section 122 amended by Rep. Capps (D-CA) to prohibit the HHS Secretary or a Health Benefits Advisory Committee from requiring a health plan to include abortion coverage in order to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.

Instead, he actually claims, in direct conflict with the plain reading of the bill, that abortion could be mandated as part of an essential benefits package. The alert reads:

Page 26; Section 122 - The bill defines what would be deemed an "essential benefits package," or in other words what the government sets as benefits or services that must be covered by an insurance plan. This section, however, contains no explicit exclusion or prohibition from abortion being deemed part of an essential benefits package. Without such an exclusion, the bill leaves open the possibility of federally mandated coverage of abortion as an essential benefit.

It's hard to imagine how he missed it, given that the new section is clearly labeled, "ABORTION COVERAGE PROHIBITED AS PART OF MINIMUM BENEFITS PACKAGE."

So, when you're debating this topic at Town Hall meetings or around your kitchen table, here are two main points to keep in mind:

1) The Capps Amendment is meant to be a compromise, which means both sides must be willing to give some ground. Abortion rights proponents in Congress are not trying to use health care reform as a vehicle to expand abortion access (although it would be appropriate for them to do so as reform is supposed to be about expanding access to health care). By the same token, abortion rights opponents should not try to use health care reform as a vehicle to restrict access to abortion care.

2) This issue is a red herring. Most of the politicians and interest groups who protest abortion coverage in health care reform do not want reform to succeed at all. Among the few groups who want health reform but have a genuine objection to abortion coverage, even they cherry pick. For instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who is cited in the Alert) also opposes contraception, sterilization, and end of life care, but they are only using their great lobbying power to oppose abortion coverage. The implication is that they will somehow learn to live with taxpayer money being used for these other services.

Assuming the person you're debating isn't holding a gun or calling you a Nazi, you could also try making these arguments:

1) The Capps Amendment applies to the public option as much as it applies to private plans in the exchange, so even if the HHS Secretary does allow the public option to include abortion services, under the current version of the bill they will only be paid for with private premiums. The same goes for federally subsidized private plans that choose to cover abortion - only private premiums would be used to pay for abortion care.

2) This is an entirely theoretical debate at this point. The bill neither mandates nor prohibits abortion coverage, nor any other health care service. Under the pending legislation, either the HHS Secretary or an independent commission of experts and citizens will determine what will be included in a minimum benefits package, and 75 percent of Americans want it that way. Congress is the wrong place to have this fight.

3) Abortion care is part of basic health care and should not be denied simply because the government wants to play a larger role in our health care system. Most employer-sponsored health plans cover abortion. Women should not lose this coverage in order to purchase insurance through a new health care exchange. Moreover, a recent poll showed that two-thirds of Americans want comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, to be part of any reform package and 6 out of 10 Americans would oppose a bill that excludes such coverage.

4) There is more than one view on this issue. A woman's rights should not depend on her wallet, and if a woman needs assistance in order to obtain abortion care, the government ought to able to provide it, even if that means taxpayer money will be used for a purpose to which some citizens object. Currently, taxpayer money is used for the war in Iraq, stem cell research, the death penalty, and teaching evolution in our public schools - all activities to which some taxpayers object. Abortion opponents are not entitled to special treatment.

There has been a lot of intentional blurring of the lines in the debate over abortion in health care reform. Although many opponents of health care reform seem allergic to the facts (see the "death panels" debate), the public deserves more. Yes, this is a controversial topic and deserves vigorous debate, but let's have a dialogue that is based on actual facts, not hyperbole, misinformation, and outright distortions.

This piece was originally posted on RHRealityCheck.