Senators Boxer, Franken Dodge Question on Taxpayer-Funding of Abortion Coverage in Health Care Bill

By Karen Schuberg | December 10, 2009 | 4:29 PM EST

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) (AP Photo)

Capitol Hill ( – When asked about taxpayer-funding of insurance policies that cover abortion, as the Senate health care bill mandates, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dodged the question and instead asked the reporter where she worked. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), before the question could be asked, referred the reporter to his press secretary to schedule an appointment to ask the senator a question.
As currently written, the Senate health care bill mandates that at least one health insurance plan available through a government exchange, which receives taxpayer subsidies, must provide abortion coverage. asked Sen. Boxer, “Is it morally right to take tax dollars from pro-life Americans and give it to health insurance plans that cover abortion?”
Boxer said: “I didn’t hear where you said you were from. I’m so sorry.  Could you tell me again where you’re from?” Boxer then entered an elevator and, as the door closed, said, “What is CNS? So. Sorry.”
In approaching Sen. Franken (D-Minn.) to ask him the same “quick question,” he replied, “Sorry, you have to go through my press secretary, Jess McIntosh.” One of Franken’s aides then handed over a business card for McIntosh and said, “Please call the number on there, and ask for her.”

In the Senate’s “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” there is a section headlined “Assured Availability of Varied Coverage Through Exchanges.” In this section, on p. 120 of the 2,074-page legislation, it requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that at least one health insurance plan offered in government-regulated insurance exchanges -- where people will be able to purchase health insurance using government subsidies -- must provide coverage of abortion. 

The secretary also must make certain that at least one plan available in the exchanges does not cover abortions. 
The relevant language says: “The Secretary shall assure that with respect to qualified health plans offered in any Exchange established pursuant to this title—(I) there is at least one such plan that provides coverage of services described in clauses (i) and (ii) of subparagraph (B); and (II) there is at least one such plan that does not provide coverage of services described in subparagraph (B)(i)."

The clause “(i)” of “subparagraph (B)” referred to in this passage defines those types of abortions currently banned from receiving federal funding under the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for all abortions except those done in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother.
The language of the Senate’s health care bill mandates that at least one health insurance plan available to people buying health insurance with federal subsidies cover those abortions that are currently prohibited from receiving federal funding under the Hyde Amendment.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.)

On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Senate voted 54-45 to table an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that would have essentially applied the Hyde Amendment language to the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”  Seven Democrats and 38 Republicans voted for Nelson’s amendment while 52 Democrats and two Republicans voted against the amendment.
Nelson’s amendment was nearly identical to that of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives, which passed in that chamber, and which explicitly prohibits any federal money from paying for part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.
Sens. Boxer and Franken voted against the Nelson amendment.