The Corner

Slate and the Case of the Non-Existent Law

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, trashes pro-lifers for saying that Obamacare funded abortion:

Another case now headed to the high court ostensibly involves the right of a pro-life group to lie in political advertising. Last week, the court agreed to hear a case brought by a national anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List, that wanted to run political ads in 2010 against then-Rep. Steven Driehaus, a Democrat from Ohio. The group sought to post billboards that read “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.” The law as written required that abortion be financed by segregated accounts, and federal law prevents taxpayer funds from funding abortions. Still, since we’re all entitled to our own facts these days, this proposition was, and still remains in dispute in some corners.

Speaking of facts, Lithwick’s claim about “federal law” is false (and the entire passage is misleading).

Federal law includes provisions that restrict the use of federal funds from particular programs for abortion: Federal Medicaid funds, for example, may be used for abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s life. They may not be used for other abortions, or for plans that cover other abortions. There is no law that imposes a blanket restriction on federal funding of abortion.

Prior to Obamacare, there was a fairly uniform practice of not paying for abortions, or for plans that cover abortions, except in the rare circumstances of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life. Obamacare, on the other hand, subsidizes plans that cover abortions. The language that keeps Medicaid from subsidizing such plans does not apply to Obamacare’s premium subsidies for exchange plans.

The dispute over Obamacare and abortion has always been about whether federal money should subsidize plans that cover abortion, in a departure from previous practice.

The story Lithwick cites, by Elise Viebeck in the Hill, gets the story wrong too, claiming that “[f]ederal law prohibits public funding for abortion.” It was Lithwick, though, who added snark on top of falsehood.

Update: Link to Lithwick article added; sorry for the inadvertent omission.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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