Abortion Returns to Campaign Forefront; Pro-Lifers Cite Ban on Health Law Funding

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 20, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Abortion Returns to Campaign Forefront; Pro-Lifers Cite Ban on Health Law Funding


Byline: Sean Lengell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

An Obama administration effort to rein in states treading toward using new health care laws to fund abortions - and provide political cover for pro-life Democrats - reignited a politically explosive issue that Republicans and pro-life activists are eager to exploit in the lead-up to the fall midterm elections.

Seizing on a Health and Human Services Department announcement last week that states must comply with a White House executive order that prohibits most abortion coverage in government-backed insurance pools, anti-abortion groups and Republicans see more ammunition in their effort to rally pro-life voters to the polls.

You cannot exchange 30 years of pro-life protections in the law for a piece of paper signed by the president of the United States, said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, acknowledged that his side had won a round.

If they now do what they say they are going to do, that would be good, Mr. Johnson said of the Obama administration. But in our view, they are doing it because the spotlight has been put on them, and we blew the whistle.

The thorny abortion issue almost derailed President Obama's health care overhaul earlier this year, as many conservative House Democrats threatened to withhold support if the measure called for spending federal dollars on abortions.

In a deal to secure the support of anti-abortion Democrats, Mr. Obama signed an executive order that reaffirmed long-standing federal restrictions against spending money for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

But the issue flared as states began to write regulations for a newly created, federally funded Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which will provide coverage for high-risk uninsured people who have been turned away by private insurers.

New Mexico's version of the plan initially called for coverage of elective abortion, causing outrage among Republicans. Abortion foes also raised questions about plans in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

So HHS last week issued a statement reiterating that all states must comply with the executive order, a move expected to shield anti-abortion Democrats who supported Mr. Obama's health care law from criticism that they misled the public.

I'm sure that the motivation of the administration was to reassure the pro-life Democrats who voted for health care reform - and it may have been at the urging at some of those elected officials and/or candidates to do so, said Jessica Arons, director of the Women's Health and Rights Program with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

A far as I can tell, it was purely a political calculation because, from my analysis, there is nothing under current federal law that requires the action that the administration took last week.

But abortion foes say they are unconvinced the administration will keep its promise and vow to keep the issue alive through the election season.

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