Beliefnet
Steven Waldman

A debate is raging over how the new health care legislation ought to treat abortion. Recently, the conservative group, Family Research Council’s legislative arm, FRC Action, launched an ad campaign claiming that health care reform would “mandate” abortion. This prompted charges from the progressive group Catholics United that FRC was making things up.
Then there was scramble over some abortion amendments in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
I asked for help in sorting this out from Tom McClusky of FRC and Chris Korzen of Catholics United. Interestingly, though they are miles apart politically, they both claimed to want the same outcome: that health care reform merely preserves the status quo, not moving it in either a pro-life or pro-choice direction.
Yet they completely disagreed on what that meant. The FRC’s McClusky opposes any money helping any taxpayer who buys a plan that covers abortion (even if the government isn’t paying directly for abortions). Corzen says the ban should be just on direct funding of abortion, not indirect.
Anyway, the full wonky exchange is below. I guess they didn’t quite come to agreement via email but I do find it interesting that they at least profess to want the same thing, rare in abortion debates.


For the truly brave and wonky, here’s their full exchange (P.s. I revised this from the first publication, as I’d left out some of the early emails):
From: Steven Waldman
To: Chris Korzen, Tom McClusky
Subject: Re: health care
Sent: 07/30/09 5:23 PM

Catholics United issued a press release today criticizing a recent TV ad you ran. They said:

In FRC Action’s ad, entitled “After a Government Takeover,” actors playing a husband and wife claim that current health care proposals would deny funding for essential treatments while providing public funding for abortions. Currently, no health care bill contains any reference to abortion, let alone a mandate for public funding of abortion. In a rebuttal to the attack ad, CNN.com notes that “the current bill does not contain any provision for taxpayer-funded abortions.”
In fact, President Obama told CBS’s Katie Couric on July 21 that the government should not try “to micromanage what benefits are covered,” and should continue to uphold a tradition of “not financing abortions as part of government funded health care.”

How do you respond to that? Where in the legislation does it say taxpayers would be paying for abortions?
From: Tom McClusky
To: Chris Korzen, Steven Waldman
Subject: Re: health care

The where in the legislation question is one we saw back during the debate over the Clinton-Mitchell Health Care Reform plan of 1993, S. 1757. The Clinton-Mitchell bill also did not include abortions, however President Bill Clinton admitted on ABC’s Nightline that abortions would be funded in his health care bill stating “it will be impossible to separate out the public and the private funds.” While today we are dealing with a slightly different bill then in 1993, his truthful answer would still have to remain the same.
Several provisions in H.R. 3200 provide mechanisms, some which are very similar to the 1993 legislation, for funding or mandating abortion coverage and even for overturning state pro-life laws. Under the minimum benefits package required under Section 122, abortion could be mandated as part of “outpatient clinic services.” Abortion could be mandated under the auspices of “family planning” coverage in Section 1714. Abortion could be funded under Section 221, which authorizes the Secretary of HHS to create a “public health insurance option.”
“What about the Hyde Amendment” might be the next question? Both legislative and court history shows us the Hyde Amendment will not be sufficient. Medicaid funded over 300,000 abortions until Congress expressly stopped such funding in 1977 by passing the Hyde appropriations ban, which bars most taxpayer funding of abortions. When the Hyde Amendment was challenged, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, while defending the legitimacy of Hyde, did, however, make clear that “abortion fits within many of the mandatory care categories, including ‘family planning,’ ‘outpatient services,’ ‘inpatient services,’ and ‘physicians’ services.'” Additionally the Hyde Amendment needs to be renewed every year or it goes away, and in a 2007 presidential candidate questionnaire then Senator Barack Obama stated his opposition to the Hyde Amendment, calling for its removal. In that same questionnaire Senator Obama also stated his health plan would include both a “public option” and funding for abortion:
“Senator Obama believes that reproductive health care is basic health care. His health care plan will create a new public plan, which will provide coverage of all essential medical services. Reproductive health care is an essential service.” http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2007/12/21/sen-barack-obamas-reproductive-health-questionnaire
Beyond Hyde, the current House bill, H.R. 3200, has some self-appropriating features that would not be covered by the Hyde Amendment.
The question is, if abortion is already excluded from the health care bill, as Catholics United claims and which a number of groups and Members of Congress dispute – what is the harm of adding wording to that effect? We agree with Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Pro-life Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a letter dated July 29th, 2009, Cardinal Rigali, who supports universal health care, stated that H.R. 3200 needs to be made “abortion neutral.” This debate is not about the legality of abortion, nor should it be – for all parties agree health care reform is needed, but whether the Federal government should fund or subsidize abortion services. It does not now, and it should not in the future.
From: Chris Korzen
To: Tom McCluskey, Steven Waldman
Subject: Re: health care

There’s an important public conversation to be had about how best to handle abortion in any health care reform package. Unfortunately, the Family Research Council withdrew from this conversation by launching an ad campaign that appears to issue a categorical attack on health care reform. The intended takeaway from the ad is clear: health care reform means a “government takeover of health care,” and this means denial of care and public funding of abortion. It’s an especially egregious message given that the current legislation leaves the private system intact.
FRC’s actions are obscuring the fact that progress is being made on the abortion funding question. Last week, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan and 4 other House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi opposing abortion mandates and federal funding for abortion services. Last night, the Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Capps Amendment, which addresses many of these concerns. Some will argue that last night’s developments do not yet constitute a true compromise. Nonetheless, we should be able to agree that we’re moving in a positive direction.
Opponents of health care reform have promised to stall this legislation to death. Regrettably, FRC’s ad campaign appears to be much more in line with that strategy than with efforts to move the legislation forward.”
From: Tom McCulskey
To: Chris Korzen, Steven Waldman
Subject: Re: health care

Family Research Council did not start this debate of abortion being in health care, in fact in the numerous papers we released last year on health care, reform was our main focus, not abortion. During this same time numerous pro-abortion organizations and then candidate Barack Obama insisted that any health care reform includes abortion.
Once health care became a legislative issue in this Congress we worked in a bipartisan manner within the context of the legislation numerous times. However pro-abortion Democratic majorities in committees in the House and the Senate shut down all reasonable attempts to keep abortion out of the health care debate. In the Senate Health Committee no less than four amendments tried to address the abortion issue, all were voted down by the Democrats on the Committee despite having bipartisan support. Parallel amendments in the House Ways & Means and the Education & Labor Committees met similar fates. And we are seeing the same pro-abortion agenda in the current Energy & Commerce mark up.
CU’s interpretation of Rep. Capp’s amendment is creative, but false. Mandating that private plans cover abortion and that the government would subsidize plans that cover abortion goes shifts from the status quo of current law to the pro-abortion side. That this is true is evidenced by votes against simple amendments to exclude abortion mandates in the healthcare bill. This isn’t about contraceptives, it’s about funding abortion and mandating abortion—-which are now explicitly in the House legislation.
On the point of the letter from the five Democratic congressmen (Reps. Tim Ryan, Dale Kildee (Mich.), James Langevin (R.I.), Artur Davis (Ala.) and Kendrick Meek (Fla.)), I am very wary of any “pro-life compromise” put forth by five pro-abortion congressmen (Tim Ryan’s protests aside, he has a long mostly pro-abortion record and recently voted FOR taxpayer abortion in the District of Columbia – any description of him as being pro-life is wishful thinking.) Listening to this group is similar to two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner – you know what the end result is going to be and it will involve lamb chops. That is why we work closely with both sides of the aisle on finding real and effective ways of reducing abortions – however the current bill, especially with the Capps amendment, would have the exact opposite effect. You do not reduce abortions by subsidizing them.
From: Steven Waldman
To: Chris Korzen, Tom McCluskey
Subject: Re: health care
Sent: Friday, July 31, 2009 10:35 AM

One of the puzzling things is that both of you say you want an abortion-neutral bill — a bill that preserves the status quo. If that’s the case, how about you 2 work out a compromise that does that?
Chris, what’s your guess about what’s an abortion neutral bill that OUGHT to satisfy serious pro-lifers. Tom, what’s an abortion neutral bill that OUGHT to satisfy prochoicers?
From: Chris Korzen
To: Tom McClusky
Subject: Re: health care
Sent: Friday, July 31, 2009 1:00 PM

I think an abortion neutral policy is pretty simple:
1) No participating health plans are required to cover abortion services.
2) No participating health plans are prohibited from covering abortion services.
3) No taxpayer funds are used to pay for abortion services, whether that be in a public option or in a federally subsidized private plan.
4) No discrimination against providers who are unwilling to provide abortion services.
Some of these points might have to be nuanced. For instance, can a federally subsidized plan cover abortions, even if the funds used for abortions come from non-federal sources (I think yes). But these are the main issues in my eyes.
Would that Tom and I could sit down together and solve the health care crisis! I do think that it would be incredible helpful if FRC would agree to drop its ad campagin in light of last night’s developments and stop insisting that there’s an effort afoot to force an “abortion mandate” into this legislation. No one wants to see health reform derailed over abortion politics.
Tom – are you in a position to make this happen?
Chris
From: Tom McClusky
Sent: Friday, July 31, 2009 1:26 PM
To: Steve Waldman; Chris Korzen
Subject: RE: health care

I agree that the solution could be very simple by adding “No funds appropriated shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.” In effect that is what all the pro-life amendments I mentioned before where trying to do. Would you be able to accept that Chris?
And again we seem to have two very different perspectives on what occurred last night in committee. If anything the amendment by the very pro-abortion Representative Lois Capps proved our point by explicitly permitting the Secretary of HHS to include abortion in the services offered by the public plan and if the Hyde amendment is reversed requires that the public plan cover abortions. With regard to the massive subsidies authorized under the act, referred to as “affordability credits,” the Capps amendment expressly requires taxpayer subsidies to flow to plans that include abortion, but creates an accounting scheme designed to give the impression that public funds will not subsidize abortion.
This is a clear departure from the longstanding federal policy against funding plans that include abortion (e.g. Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, Medicaid, SCHIP, DOD, etc). In light of this I would ask Catholics united to join us in our ad until the Democratic Leadership agrees to truly make the legislation abortion neutral.
As for the both of us solving the health care crisis? Perhaps the President can have us over for some beers . . .
From: Steven Waldman
To: Tom McClusky, Chris Korzen
Re: health care
Sent: 7/31/2009 3:07 PM

Thanks tom. I’m eager to hear Chris’s response to your suggestion, which basically changes the language a bit on #3 in his list. In the meantime, Tom, do you agree with #1, #2 and #4?
1) No participating health plans are required to cover abortion services.
2) No participating health plans are prohibited from covering abortion services.
3) No taxpayer funds are used to pay for abortion services, whether that be in a public option or in a federally subsidized private plan.
4) No discrimination against providers who are unwilling to provide abortionservices.
From: Tom McClusky
Sent: Friday, July 31, 2009 1:30 PM
To: Steve Waldman; Chris Korzen
Subject: RE: health care

With #1 and #2 it would depend on if they are getting any sort of federal money or subsidy. While we would, in a perfect world by our definition, prefer NO plans cover abortion, that is not what we are pushing for here.
But if the plans receive federal taxpayer dollars on any levels – they shouldn’t cover abortions, that would dramatically change the current status quo. The language I submitted should do just that.
There is precedent for abortion exclusions in the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program. The FEHB, which offers federal employees a menu of health insurance providers, prevents inclusion of any plan that offers abortion coverage. Likewise, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program which provides funding to states for children’s health services also prevents inclusion of any plan that offers abortion coverage.
#4 Would need to be written in a similar fashion to current conscience protection provisions that are in current law but I would think it important for both sides of the debate that their beliefs towards the beginning of life be protected.
From: Chris Korzen
To: Tom McClusky, Steve Waldman
Sent: 7/31/2009 4:06 PM

The [Capps] amendment states that no tax dollars will be used to pay for abortion services. This should be acceptable to pro-life Americans who want find consensus on abortion funding in health care reform – so that we are able to provide coverage to the tens of millions who currently lack it.
Moreover, FRC’s ad remains misleading in its suggestion that the current proposal will force Americans to pay for abortions.
As I understand it, the Hyde Amendment currently permits federal funding for those state Medicaid programs that provide abortion services. Is this not the case?
Hope that helps. Thanks!
Chris

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