David Axelrod Says He Hopes U.S. Catholic Bishops Will Realize Obama’s Claim That the Health Care Bill Doesn’t Fund Abortion is ‘Accurate’

By Fred Lucas | September 10, 2009 | 9:44 AM EDT

David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, at a March 24 news conference. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod on Wednesday night reiterated President Barack Obama’s claim that the health care bill before Congress does not fund abortion and said he hopes that the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops come to understand that the president’s assurances on this matter is “accurate.”

In his Wednesday night speech to Congress, Obama said he wanted to clear up the “misunderstanding” that the bill would allow federal funds to be used to pay for abortions. “Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place,” Obama said.

Axelrod reiterated that statement to CNSNews.com after the speech. “We’ve talked to the bishops, and the president made his position clear on this,” Axelrod told CNSNews.com. “Hopefully, they will come to see that the assertion he made tonight is accurate.
“This should not be turned into a debate about abortion,” Axelrod said. “It’s about making sure people don’t get thrown off their insurance if they get sick. It’s about making sure if people have preexisting conditions they can still get insurance. This is about people not going broke if they become seriously ill, and this is about people who don’t have insurance having the opportunity to get it. And we ought not to be diverted.”

“I think the church has been a great progressive force on issues like this,” said Axelrod. Hopefully, bishops will see a way to support this (health care reform legislation).”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a letter to all members of Congress stating that the bill is unacceptable because it would provide federal funds to insurance carriers that provide abortions. The letter was signed by Cardinal Justin Rigali, the  archbishop of Philadelphia, who is the chairman of the bishops committee on pro-life activities.

Axelrod said he does not believe the Catholic Church is intentionally spreading misinformation, as the White House says other opponents of the legislation are doing. 

“I think that they are earnestly trying to work their way through this issue,” Axelrod told CNSNews.com shortly after Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. 

In his letter to House members on Aug. 11, Cardinal Justin Rigali noted that federal funds under the House health care bill will not be subject to the Hyde Amendment--a law that prohibits federal funding of abortions through Medicaid. (See previous story)

“Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand,” Rigali wrote. Noting that the bill will require people buying federally funded health insurance plans that include abortion to also pay at least $1.00 themselves for the premium, Cardinal Rigali said some will use this as a pretext for arguing that the federal funds paying for the remainder of the premiums do not support abortion.

“Thus some will claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion under the Act,” he wrote. “But this is an illusion. Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions.” 

Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who was elected in 2006 after running as a pro-life Democrat, believes the final version of a health care reform bill will explicitly prohibit abortion. 

“In the end, I think the final bill we send the president will have language in it that is Hyde language or something very comparable to that. I think that’s what will happen,” Casey told CNSNews.com.

However, committees in both the House and Senate have already rejected amendments that explicitly prohibit federal money from going to health insurance plans that cover abortions.

In July, the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected by a 30-29 vote an amendment that said, “No funds authorized under this Act (or an amendment by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion.”

The committee then passed an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) that would leave it up to private insurers selling insurance to federally funded customers in a government run health insurance exchange would cover abortions.  The amendment requires at least one insurer in the exchange in each area of the country to cover abortions.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that requires insurance companies to include services for pregnant women and women in childbearing years.

Though the Mikulski amendment does not directly say that it would cover abortions, Sens. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) asked her if the language was broad enough to include coverage of abortion. Mikulski responded, “It would provide for any service deemed medically necessary or medically appropriate.”

When Hatch asked if she would add language to her amendment to specifically exclude abortion coverage, Mikulski answered: “No. I would not be willing to do that at this time.”