Washington (CNSNews.com) – Six senators, including former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), when asked if it is morally right to take tax dollars from pro-life Americans to pay for health insurance plans that cover abortion, did not answer the question directly, but instead expressed their thoughts about the Senate health-care legislation.
The Senate health-care bill at present mandates that the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary make certain that at least one health-care plan in the government exchanges -- where people will use tax money to buy health insurance -- covers elective abortions.
At the U.S. Capitol, CNSNews.com asked senators, “Is it morally right to take tax money from pro-life Americans and give it to health insurance plans that cover abortion?”
Senator Kerry said: “I think it [taxpayer funding of abortion] has to be severely limited in the way it has been limited, which is only in the very exceptional cases of the life of the mother, or for rape or incest. But I think the limitations are appropriate."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a strong abortion-rights advocate, said: “Our plan does not do that.”
The Senate health care plan, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, includes 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 must provide coverage of abortion.
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.
In effect, 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.
The Hyde amendment, which has been added to the annual Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill since 1976, and to other bills that cover health care programs funded by the federal government, bars tax dollars from going to health care plans that cover abortion except in certain cases.
The amendmnet says, “None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be expended for any abortion except when it is made known to the federal entity or official to which funds are appropriated under this Act that such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother or that the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”
The Hyde amendment, however, would not apply to the Senate health care bill because the taxpayer-subsidies the bill would create to help people buy health insurance would not run through any the HHS appropriations or any other appropriations bill that includes the Hyde amendment.
Back on Dec. 8, the Senate voted 54-45 to table -- to end consideration of -- an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that would have essentially applied the Hyde amendment language to the Senate health care bill. And, like the amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives, which passed in that chamber, Nelson’s proposal would have explicitly prohibited any federal money from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.
Several senators, meanwhile, when asked the same question as Kerry and Murray, talked to CNSNews.com about the Hyde and Nelson amendments.
Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), who is known as a pro-life Democrat and is the son of the late outspoken pro-life Democratic Gov. Bob Casey, told CNSNews.com on Dec. 8: “Well, what we’re trying to do, I know that’s directed to this amendment [Nelson’s amendment]. We’re trying to do with this amendment two things really: One is to continue a consensus of taxpayer dollars don’t pay for abortion and, secondly, and related there, too, is respecting the conscience of taxpayers. I think we can—they are both a part of what we’re trying to do here.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said: I think here in the Congress we have been very, very consistent over the years in ensuring that the Hyde amendment language is included so, in fact we do not have taxpayer funds that go towards abortions."
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who spoke to CNSNews.com on the run said: “I think the most important thing here is to keep the government out of it, and so we need to follow current law. And the good thing about this bill is that we follow current law. We keep the law the same as it is. I’m in a rush for the chair.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said: “That’s not what the language in the bill that’s before us would do. What it would do is maintain the status quo that was established over three decades ago by the Hyde amendment which essentially prohibits federal funding of abortion. What -- the -- those people who support the Nelson-Hatch Amendment would like to do is to make sure that, or to limit the ability of women to pay for their own money for private insurance to cover reproductive services."
Seven Democrats and 38 Republicans voted against tabling Nelson’s amendment while 52 Democrats and two Republicans voted for tabling the amendment and thus ending it.
Sens. Kerry, Murray, Udall, and Shaheen all voted in favor of killing Nelson’s amendment. Sens. Casey and Murkowski voted against tabling Nelson’s amendment.