Politics & Policy

Doing Harm

In the debate over health-care reform, abortion can't be swept aside.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

Do no harm” is as vital a political principle as it is a medical maxim. But the White House has abandoned such wisdom on both counts when it comes to its so-called health-care-reform crusade.

No one bothered to ask the president about how abortion fit into his political prescriptions when he held his prime-time health-care press conference in mid-July. And even if someone had, the president’s answer, like everything else, would have been obscured by the controversy surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, which became a drama so hot that only a “beer summit” could begin to quench the media-frenzy flames. Besides, President Obama is already on record saying that debates about abortion’s place in the bill are a “distraction.” Details could be hashed out later — say, in conference, where, by the way, the C-SPAN cameras aren’t running.

But there is good reason to be alarmed. The two major health-care bills that Congress is examining would, according to Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, “result in federally mandated coverage of abortion by nearly all health plans, federally mandated recruitment of abortionists by local health networks, and nullification of many state abortion laws. They would also result in federal funding of abortion on a massive scale.” In the House, all attempts to add to the bill amendments that would prevent any abortion-coverage mandates or federal subsidies for abortion have failed.

But most Americans probably have no idea this is happening. After all, the word “abortion” does not appear in any of the legislation making the rounds on the Hill. And while the full texts of the House and Senate bills have yet to become available, and keeping track of all the moving parts of the much-talked-about Obama health-care revolution is a full-time job, Johnson and others have been labeled liars in talking points making their way through the Internet. A website purportedly devoted to “information and analysis for reproductive health” has been chief among those wielding the charge of liar” as a tactic. If you look past the administration’s (and other people’s) obfuscation, however, the truth becomes all too apparent.

The Associated Press has pointed out that the reforms would open up rivers of federal funding not bound by previous legislative restrictions relating to abortion, and Michael New, a University of Alabama professor and visiting fellow at Princeton, has asserted that the bills’ language opens the door for future regulations that would require private insurers to cover abortions.

“Few people realize that, as things stand, abortion could be a required benefit in all health-insurance plans, and it would be subsidized not only in health-care premiums, but also through taxation,” says Dr. Louis Breschi, president of the Catholic Medical Association.

A spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, admitted to a reporter: “The starting point for Representative Slaughter on the health-care debate was protecting abortion rights.” Groups like Planned Parenthood know what they want out of health-care reform: a way to ensure that American women have easy access to abortion. Washington Democrats are all too eager to comply.

Differing interpretations of social justice will mean different policy prescriptions, but on the essential moral issue of life, one thing is clear: Thou shalt not kill. And this principle should be central in the  discussion of Obamacare. Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it succinctly: “We want to see people who have no health insurance get it, but this is a sticking point. We don’t want health-care reform to be the vehicle for mandating abortion.”

Right now, there is absolutely nothing keeping Obamacare from mandating abortion and violating the consciences of health-care providers who are opposed to it. During the campaign and the first few months of the administration, pro-lifers tried focusing Americans’ attention on the sweeping Freedom of Choice Act. But at this moment we’re facing the possibility of a sea change in our federal government’s approach to abortion. Insisting on a clear and true debate is essential if we want to prevent deadly surprises. And you don’t even have to be opposed to abortion to want to know what your government is making happen with your money.

 Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online. 

© 2009, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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