Today, the House of Representatives will likely be voting on H.R. 3, the Protect Life Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.). This piece of legislation would prevent federal funding of abortion through Obamacare. This is important to pro-lifers because Obamacare created a number of funding streams which may result in taxpayer subsidized abortions. For instance, funds appropriated through Obamacare may subsidize health insurance plans purchased through state level exchanges which cover abortion. Additionally, Obamacare might subsidize abortion through funds appropriated for either community health centers or high-risk pools. The Protect Life Act insures that none of these funding streams would directly pay for abortions.
During the health-care debate, the issue of abortion funding put President Obama in a very difficult position politically. Most Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion and the pro-life movement wisely raised the salience of this issue. However, President Obama realized his pro-choice allies would never support an explicit ban on federal funds to insurance plans which included abortion. As such, his solution was to sign an executive order that would purportedly ban federal funds from going to insurance policies that would fund abortion. Obamacare supporters hoped that this would purchase some political cover for pro-life Democrats and convince some Americans that Obamacare did not actually fund abortion.
Of course, nearly all analysts, both pro-life and pro-choice agree that the executive order is close to meaningless. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, called it a “symbolic gesture.” In the months after the passage of Obamacare, the National Right to Life Committee found that the Department of Health and Human Services agreed to fund high risk insurance plans in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Mexico all of which included abortion coverage. The outcry did prompt a policy change from the Obama administration. But the policy change was due to the outside scrutiny, not the legal weight of the executive order. Furthermore, the Obama administration vowed that this policy change “is not a precedent.” That is what makes today’s vote on H.R. 3 so important.
Regardless of the outcome, pro-lifers should take heart. In the aftermath of the 1994 election, Congress never even voted on defunding Planned Parenthood. This year, there was an effort to remove Planned Parenthood funding from the remainder of the FY 2011 budget. Representative Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.) announced he would be holding congressional hearings on Planned Parenthood. The ban on taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia was reinstated. This May the House of Representatives passed HR 3 “The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” which would codify the Hyde Amendment into public law. The increased attention that this Congress is giving to sanctity-of-life issues is evidence of the increased popularity and influence of the pro-life movement.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.