Politics & Policy

Keep Abortion Out

Liberals are giddy over passage of Nancy Pelosi’s Saturday-night-special health-care bill in the House of Representatives. And why shouldn’t they be? The bill is a big-government dream come true: expanding entitlements, fattening the federal government, and making the middle class dependent on politicians for access to medical care.  

But the celebration was more subdued that it otherwise might have been — because the House also adopted an amendment to the bill, offered by a Democrat, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, that will prevent federal money from being used to finance abortions. Although Representative Stupak had been campaigning for his amendment for many months, some of the more liberal Democrats nonetheless were stunned that it passed so overwhelmingly — in a House liberals had thought they owned.

After the Stupak vote, the Left’s complaint chorus, conducted by the editorial board of the New York Times, argued that the House bill in fact goes beyond current federal restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortion and imposes new restrictions on what kind of insurance women can buy with their own money. But these complaints ignore the elephant in the room: Democrats are trying to supplant private health care with a government-run system. In every other instance that finds the U.S. government managing a health-care program, public sentiment consistently has forced Congress, no matter which party is in control, to adopt rules that protect taxpayers from entanglement in abortion. Liberals want government to run the whole health-care show, and they want to run roughshod over those who have moral objections to financing abortion; but the Stupak vote suggests the politics favor the pro-life side in this debate. The Democrats may be able to take over health care, but they probably won’t be able to take it over on NARAL’s terms.

#ad#The Democratic bills under consideration in Congress would, among other things, require all legal residents of the United States to buy government-approved insurance plans, with a minimum level of benefits to be determined by Washington. The Democrats also would require many Americans to secure their insurance through government-managed “exchanges.” For most small-business workers and others without access to an employer-sponsored plan, there would be, in effect, no choice: If they want to avoid the fine (backed up by the threat of jail time) for going without coverage, then they have to go into the government exchange. Without the Stupak amendment, both the “public option” and the plans sold through the exchange would have enabled the subsidization of abortions. Under the Democrats’ original proposal, those in the public option would be forced to contribute at least $1 every month into a special fund dedicated exclusively to paying for abortions — there would not even have been an opt-out provision.

The federal government already is intimately involved in health care, and current law reflects the strong public consensus that taxpayers should not be forced to finance coverage of abortion. For example, government employees’ health coverage includes a wide range of plans from which to choose — and coverage of elective abortion is prohibited in all of them. This is true even though a portion of the premium is paid by the workers themselves. Money is fungible, and all the elaborate accounting tricks in Washington’s arsenal do not make an abortion subsidy something other than what it is. If federal money is even partially financing an insurance plan covering elective abortions, taxpayers are entangled in something many find morally abhorrent.

The House’s adoption of the Stupak amendment is entirely consistent with abortion policies going back more than three decades. For years, abortion-rights advocates have argued that an abortion is just like any other outpatient surgery and should be treated as such. A strong majority of Americans believe that is not the case, and they will not quietly go along with efforts to force them into accepting that it is. That’s why the Stupak amendment passed easily in the House when it finally was put to a vote. And it’s why smart Democrats, even those who are pro-abortion, should realize that this is a fight they will not win.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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